Poker Betting


It’s been said that poker isn’t a card game, it’s a betting game that uses cards – and the more time you spend playing, the truer that idea becomes. That’s why understanding the basic strategy and theory behind poker betting can, in many ways, be more important than knowing about odds or which hands to play. Once you understand how to bet properly, you can incorporate many other lessons and experiences into your evolution as a player and, ideally, develop the kind of ability that will make you a consistent winner.

The Basics

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There are three basic maneuvers you can choose from when the action – i.e., all other players before you have acted, or when you are first to act – comes to you in a specific hand. They are checking, folding and betting.

Checking is when you decide you don’t want to lead the action, so you essentially forfeit your right to make a bet until someone else does or the hand finishes, at which point you would simply show your cards and see who wins. While this is often seen as a passive move, it can serve to set up a later raise or to simply allow you to call later on, keeping you alive in a hand.

Folding is, of course, when a bet has been made in front of you and you decide not to continue playing, at which point you are out of the hand.

The real depth and strategy of poker comes with betting. There are three different types of bets you can make. The first is to lead the betting. That is when you are first to act or everyone in front of you has checked and you decide to start the action. The second is calling. That is when someone in front of you (or behind you, if you’ve already checked and the action has come back around) has made a bet and you decide to simply match their bet.

The third is raising, and that is almost always the most powerful and most complicated form of betting.

Folding

Unless you have the confidence, experience and understanding of your opponents to know when and how to bluff, you almost always want to fold if you believe your hand is weaker than that of the person who is betting.

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A Texas Hold ‘em poker hand is composed of 5 total cards. Two cards are from the face-down hole cards, and three cards from the five face-up community cards.

The only major caveat to that point would be if you have a good draw – four cards to a straight or a flush, for instance – and the amount it would cost you to call their bet makes it worthwhile to follow along and try to hit your hand. In general, though, it is advisable to fold if you have a hand that is unlikely to win.

Calling

Calling can serve many purposes. If you have the aforementioned strong draw, and the amount you have to call provides good odds to chase that draw, then it may be worth calling a bet to see another card. In certain cases, calling instead of raising is advisable if you have a hand that is unbeatable or nearly unbeatable and you want to rope other players into the action. By not revealing the true strength of your hand with a raise, other players may be enticed to stay in the hand and contribute to the pot size.

Calling can also serve to scare an opponent. Often, when someone leads out with a bet they either have a good hand they want to protect or they are trying to bully other players out of the pot. By just calling, no matter the strength of your hand, you might slow them down and set yourself up to make a play later in the hand.

Raising

Raising is often where the most complex betting calculations and strategy occur. It is the tactic most often employed when trying to take down a pot with the best hand, bluff an opponent or bully the other players at the table. When you believe yours is the best hand, you’ll want to raise to either push players with draws out of the way, or make sure that those who stick around end up giving you the maximum payout for your effort.

Raising is also the most effective tactic when you want to bluff (something that, again, you should reserve for a time when you have the requisite skills and understanding to pull off). Except in rare instances, nothing will scare your opponents more than raising. That’s also why it serves as a good way to bully the table. Consistent raising, especially if it causes opponents to fold often, is the most effective way to establish a certain amount of dominance over your table.

Your table position will determine the order in which you are able to bet.

Your table position will determine the order in which you are able to bet.

The first thing to understand about raising is the amount you’ll want to use in your raise. Inexperienced players often make the mistake of raising too little, then getting upset when an opponent calls and catches a lucky card to beat them. A good rule of thumb is to make your raise at least two-and-a-half times the original bet. That way you at least make an opponent think hard about deciding to chase you down, and if they do and fail you will realize maximum profit on your bet.

Another type of raising incorporates a principle discussed earlier: Checking. The check-raise is one of the most powerful tools in a poker player’s arsenal. It is used when you have a good hand (or want to pull off a large bluff) and have a strong belief that someone behind you will bet. You check the first time the action is on you, then, once someone else bets and it comes back around to you, you make a large raise – in this case, you often want to raise at least three times the original bet – that allows you to take control of the hand or drive everyone else out completely.

Understanding the different types of bets, the strategies they allow you to employ, and the right times to use them, is the surest way to raise your game to a higher level. To learn more about betting, see our guide on betting limits.