Primary betting incentives – Why bet?

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  • Post category:Poker
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Placing a bet should only be done when you are actually incentivized to do so. Betting should result in a higher EV, than not betting. Players not aware of the proper primary betting incentives, end up betting in situations they shouldn’t or not betting in situations they should.

Poor primary betting motivations

If your primary betting motivations are the following, you are not thinking about strategy in the correct way.

  • Betting because they have hit their hand (e.g. they have made a pair), or made a draw.
  • To avoid a bet from the opponent, and get their opponent decide what to do. They would rather place a bet, rather than have to decide what to do when their opponent bets.
  • They bet to maintain initiative. They were the preflop raiser, so must continuation bet.

To be clear, we are not saying for example that maintaining initiative is necessarily bad or that betting when you have hit is necessarily bad. What we are saying is these should not be your main reason for placing a bet.

Old school primary betting incentives

If you look at most training material, that was created before the arrival of solvers, you will find they usually say you should bet for the following reasons:

  1. To get value – You are placing a value bet when you mainly expect to be called by worse hands than the hand you are betting. Betting when you have the best hand, does NOT necessarily mean you are betting for value – you must consider the range that will continue versus your bet. If your opponent has lots of worse hands but will fold all of them, and just a few better hands but will continue with all of them, your bet is NOT a value bet. Your motivation for value betting is to get your opponent to put more money into the pot, which you expect to often win.
  2. As a bluff – A pure bluff, is when you bet knowing that if your called you do not have the best hand at showdown. Your motivation for bluffing is to get your opponent to fold his better hand or range, so you can collect the pot. A semi-bluff, is when you bet knowing you don’t currently have the best hand, but can improve on future streets. You would like your opponent to fold, but if they call you can still win a bigger pot.
    These 2 reasons are mutually exclusive. A value bet cannot be a bluff, and a bluff cannot be a value bet.

In this old school way of thinking, it was sometimes suggested there was a third reason to bet – the protection bet. Let’s imagine you raised pocket twos in MP on a board of K83r, and got called by the big blind. It is checked to you, and you don’t expect your opponent to call with worse hands if you bet. There are no draws he could call with on this board. So, you are certainly not placing a value bet, as if called it will only be with better hands (a pair of threes or better). However, you are also not bluffing if you bet, as you rate to have the best hand most of the time at this moment. The majority of hands in your opponents range have two higher cards than your pocket twos, which you would like to deny equity to. Calling a protection bet a separate betting reason, was controversial. We won’t go into the debate around it, as this value-bluff-protection paradigm is no longer the way you should be thinking about whether to bet or not.

New school primary betting incentives

Solvers have shown us that in fact the primary reasons to bet are:

  1. To prevent your opponent from realizing some or all of their equity.
  2. It’s to your advantage to build a bigger pot.

These reasons make perfect intuitive sense. When you place a bet, you are giving your opponents a chance to fold, and if their hand had any equity you have denied them all of their equity if they fold – until the river when except in the case of ties one hand has 100% equity (and all other hands have 0% equity) almost any hand (however bad) usually has some equity versus another hand. We have a full explanation of equity, here at If your opponent does not fold, clearly the pot will get bigger – which may be something you desire when you hold a strong hand.

The beauty of this way of thinking is these two reasons are NOT mutually exclusive, unlike the value-bluff paradigm. Infact you have a clear bet when you can deny your opponents their equity share (as they cannot continue with several hands in their range which have equity versus your bet, whereas if you didn’t bet they may realize that equity), whilst simultaneously building a bigger pot that you expect to win more often (as you think your bet will get called by a lot of worse hands).