The dynamics of betting in NLHE cash

It is amazing to think just how “experienced” a poker player can be in terms of the number of years that they have been active in the game and still not know what today are deemed basics. This is both good news and bad news, bad news in so much that we don’t really know the game as much as we think we do but good news in that many of our opponents don’t either. Recently I have been looking at the three basic reasons why we bet in no limit hold’em.

As I explained earlier we are either ahead or behind in a poker hand (excluding the rare times where we tie). If we are ahead then we have the ability to bet for value. However betting for value is only correct if we can get called by a worse hand. If we are behind then we can bluff but a bluff is only correct if we can get our opponents to fold. So we can see that value betting and bluffing reflect how we are either ahead or behind.

We can also see that betting simply because we have the best hand is a poor poker play. The exact mirror image of that is to bluff simply because we have the perceived worst hand. Bluffing is only correct if it stands any chance of getting your opponent to fold. Well actually that statement is incorrect because we have to be careful with the wording here. Saying “any chance” infers that the percentage could be something like 1%. Clearly then in a $100 pot then it would be a massive mistake to bet say $50 on a bluff if there was only a 1% chance that our opponent would fold.

So our chances of being successful are reflected in how much is in the pot and the size of the bet coupled with the chances of the bluff working. So the bottom line is that if we are ahead then we value bet but only if betting can be called by a worst hand otherwise we are not betting for value – we are just betting for the sake of it. On the flip side is when we are behind then we bluff – but only when there is the chance that our opponent or opponents will fold either the best hand or fold – otherwise we are just bluffing for the sake of it.

Let us say that you raised before the flop form the button with the Jc-10c and the big blind called you. Each of you had a 100bb stack and the big blind had the 9d-8d. The flop came Ah-5s-5c and the big blind checked. If you bet then you are not betting for value because no worse hand can call. So you are bluffing but if you knew your opponents hand then you would know that you have the best hand – so is this technically a bluff when you have the best hand?

Well yes it is actually because when we bluff then we are not always directing our bets at superior hands. In this situation then the fact that our hand is superior is almost of no consequence. Our five card hand is A-5-5-J-10 while our opponents hand is A-5-5-9-8 – they are almost the same hand. So despite holding almost the same hand our action is indicating that our hand is superior to the one that we actually do hold so we are bluffing. We are betting to win the current equity and not to make a better hand fold although we could be if our opponent held something like K-Q. Remember that our action is a bluff despite holding a stronger hand for one simple reason.

Because our hands are almost identical then the difference in equity is insignificant. This is because we have nothing or at the very least we have a hand that cannot take any heat. So if our opponent could look into a crystal ball and see our hand then they would raise our bet on this flop because our hand cannot stand a raise. So we are forcing a hand to fold that could have beaten us if they had found the appropriate line.

In this situation we are weak and we know we are even if our hand is technically better in terms of the actual hand ranking. We have the same low pair no kicker holding as our opponent. The fact that our kicker is a jack while theirs is a nine is of little consequence with three betting rounds to go. Because of that then our bet is a bluff and nothing else. As long as you remember that bluffs are designed not to just make “better hands” fold then you will be using a stronger betting strategy. This is one of the basic fundamentals of no limit Texas hold’em.


Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker

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