Tips on Betting
Betting is the essence of poker. We usually bet with the best hand and whenever we think a well-timed bluff will win the pot without murmur or protest from an adversary, even if he or she happens to have a slightly better hand right now.
Regardless of how often you drag a large pot, we still have to duck out on occasion. If you raised with A-K before the flop, you figure to flop a pair only about one time in three. The flop won’t improve your hand two-thirds of the time, and when that happens you’ll be out in the cold trying to decide what to do about it.
Against three or more opponents you’re usually safe in assuming that at least one of them likes the flop. If the flop missed you completely, you are probably behind right now and figure to still be behind at the end of the hand.
When someone bets—and anyone who liked the flop will probably come out betting—you can fold and get ready for the next hand.
But it’s different if your ace and king are suited and two of your suit appear on the flop. Now you have a flush draw and any of the nine remaining cards of your suit will complete your hand. And even if you miss your flush, an ace or a king on the turn also offers a good chance of winning. After all, top pair with the very best sidecard, or kicker, wins a lot of hold’em confrontations.
Although pairing your ace or king is no guarantee of winning, your hand is much more valuable than it would be if completing your flush was the only way you could win the pot.
Suppose you flopped Th-4h-Js to go along with your Ah-Kh. Not only would any of the nine remaining hearts make the best possible flush, any of the three remaining queens—the three that are not hearts—will make the best possible straight. And any other ace or king gives you top pair with top kicker.
This particular hand is so good that instead of attempting to complete your draw inexpensively by checking and hoping that everyone else checks too, you might want to bet in order to get more money into the pot.
Betting might even induce opponents to fold their hands and then you’ll win without even having to get lucky. Between your chances of making a flush with one of the nine hearts presently unaccounted for, making a straight with any of the other three queens—we’ve already counted the queen of hearts as one of the nine hearts, so we can’t count it twice—there are a dozen cards that can give you the best possible hand. If a pair of aces or a pair of kings would win the pot, you’ve got an additional six cards to help you there too. And if your bet causes your opponents to all head south, that’s another additional chance to win.
But things aren’t always clean and simple, not even in this case. That ace or king giving you top pair might also make a straight for your opponent, so a card you think will win the pot for you might be a dagger to your heart instead, and the only way of sidestepping this is to learn how to decipher what your opponents have.
If the ten of hearts were replaced by a low heart, you wouldn’t have a straight draw, but then again, neither would any of your opponents. With a flop of 2h-7h-Js, any ace or king stands a very good chance of helping you, while the chances of it helping an opponent even more are almost nil.
The takeaway here is that you can usually play drawing hands aggressively whenever you’re likely to win the pot by pairing your overcards as well as by completing your draw. And if your bet succeeds as a bluff, that’s just lagniappe.
Lou’s latest books are Mastering Omaha/8 Poker and Secrets the Pros Won’t Tell You About Winning Hold’em Poker. Visit him at www.loukrieger.com