Betting in poker is a fundamental part of the game. It’s what helps shift money around the table from one hand to the next and subsequently creates massive pots, juicy action, and big winners.
Proper etiquette and strategy behind how you choose to bet is an important part of gameplay. Adhering to proper etiquette will help make weaker players want to continue playing with you, whilst implementing a sound betting strategy will help you take money from these same players (as well as your stronger opponents from time to time, too!).
Remember: betting gives you an extra way to win the pot beyond just having the best hand at showdown; it gives room for your opponent(s) to fold and/or make mistakes against you, too. Therefore, if you do it correctly, it can help you consistently build up your stack or bankroll and profit well.
To assist you, the aim of this guide is to serve as a complete one-stop-shop for all the important info you’ll need about the in’s and out’s of poker betting.
Betting in Poker: Types of Bets
“Betting” can refer to any of the actions available for you to take in a poker hand:
- Check: This is essentially a bet of $0. It passes the betting action on to the next player in the hand. This option is only available when there have not been any previous bets or raises in a betting round. It is also available to the player in the big blind during the 1st (preflop) betting round when other players have only called the big blind.
- Bet: This is the initial amount of money placed forward by any player in a postflop betting round. A bet can be made by the first player to act or by any other player after the action has checked around to them. The minimum bet size is often equivalent to that of the big blind. The maximum bet size of no-limit games, such as Match Poker, is that of one’s entire stack, at any moment in time (i.e. when a player goes all-in).
- Raise: This refers to any increase made to an initial bet during a betting round. There is no cap on the size of the raise amount; however, it must be at least double the size of the previous bet.
- Re-Raise: This refers to any additional raise made after an initial raise. (To simplify things, these can also be referred to as 3bets, 4bets, 5bets, etc.) Regarding the minimum allowed size for a re-raise, it must use at least the same increment utilised between the previous bet and raise. For example, if Player A bets 10 chips, and Player B makes a raise to 30 chips total, then the difference between these two amounts is 20. This means the minimum permissible re-raise size would then be a total of 50 chips (or 20 more than the 30-chip raise). The exception to this rule is if a player wants to go all-in but doesn’t have the fully required minimum size of raise or re-raise; in this instance, they are still allowed to go all-in.
- Call: This is when a player matches the previous bet, raise, or re-raise size made by another player, in order to continue playing in the hand.
- Fold: This is where a player discards their cards and is not involved any longer in the poker hand. While this option isn’t technically considered a “bet”, it’s still certainly an action available for players to take.
Poker Betting Rules: How To Bet In Poker
The points below include how to go about betting during a poker game. Keep in that while all these points are applicable to both live and online games, you won’t need to consciously focus on some of them when playing Match Poker Online™ because of automation that the software provides you with (i.e. players can’t act out-of-turn when online; bets are made by just clicking a button, instead putting physical poker chips forward; etc.).
Fundamental Betting Strategies for Beginners
When you bet (or raise), you’re often hoping for a certain result and subsequent action from your opponent:
- If you have a good hand and you bet, you would obviously like to get called by a worse hand (“value bet”).
- When you have a weak hand and you bet, you are hoping that your opponents will fold a better hand (“bluff”), allowing you to scoop up the pot.
- One specific type of “bluff” that can be done on the flop or turn is one where you’re betting when you have a draw (“semi-bluff”), where you could win the pot either by betting now and having your opponent folding to your bet or by improving to a better hand on a future street (i.e. a flush or a straight).
All of these 3 main types of bets will be elaborated upon in this section.
You should make a value bet if you think that you will be called by a worse hand 50% of the time or more. However, that said, there are two exceptions to this rule:
- For tournaments, due to wanting to always preserve your tournament life and chip stack, it can be advisable to perhaps only bet when you’ll get called by a worse hand 60% of the time or more. This is because it’s much worse to be wrong and lose your tournament chips than it is to push small equity advantages and gain only a few more chips than you would have otherwise.
- To balance / strengthen your checking range, it’s advisable not to bet with every single strong hand in your range that you think will get called by worse 50% of the time or more. Furthermore, by checking, you can additionally allow your opponent to bluff. It also allows you to potentially extract more money if your plan is to check-raise! (Again, just make sure when you raise, that the hands your opponent might call you with will be worse over 50% of the time than the hand you decided to raise with.)
Bluffing is an important part of poker because it always keeps your opponents guessing as to whether or not you have a good hand. If you only bet with your strong hands, you’d become quite exploitable and easy to play against.
In Texas Hold ’Em poker, all hand equities have been realised by the river, meaning that players by this point know exactly how strong their best 5-card poker hand is (based on the poker hand rankings charts). They are also likely to be able to deduce from previous betting action in a hand whether or not they might be ahead or behind their opponents by this point, in terms of hand strength.
It’s not advisable to bluff with every weak hand on the river, especially if many draws missed; doing this would likely entail that you’d be bluffing too much. Instead, the number of bluff combinations will depend on how many hands you choose to value bet with and the size of bet you choose to use. (More on this later.)
In general, good hand candidates to select for your bluffs might fall under one (or both) of the following trait
- An extremely weak hand that has very little chance of winning at showdown (i.e. the weakest missed draws)
- A hand that contains good blockers (cards that mean your opponent can’t have nutted or super strong hands). An example of bluffing with a good blocker could include holding the Ace of the suit that also has a 3-flush on the board, meaning your opponent can’t have the nut flush because you have that card!
Another strategic point regarding bluffing is that you want to make sure your previous betting actions and sizings all are the same ones you would’ve used if you actually have the value hand that you’re trying to represent. (I.e. “Does your story make sense?”)
Semi-bluffs are inclusive of the hands on the flop or turn that are considered draws and/or have potential to improve to an even bigger hand on a future street. While you should aim to play a good portion of these draws aggressively, doing this with all of your draw combinations will almost certainly have you bluffing at an incorrect frequency. Some draw hands that you might opt to check with are hands that have some showdown value currently (because you could already be beating some of your opponents’ hands that wouldn’t call a bet anyway).
As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to bluff or semi-bluff at the following frequencies throughout a poker hand:
- FLOP: 2 to 2.5 semi-bluffs for every 1 value hand
- TURN: 1 semi-bluff for every 1 value hand
- RIVER: 1 bluff for every 2 value hands
NOTE: The exact river ratio that should be used from a game-theory optimal (GTO) standpoint would be able to be calculated perfectly depending on what bet size is used.
Betting the Flop, Turn, and River in Poker: The 4 Hand Categories
Poker hands should not be thought of as absolute values (i.e. the cards you’re actually holding and how strong your hand is), but rather as a part of a more complex and diverse poker hand range, which refers to all the possible hand combinations you could be feasibly holding in that specific situation.
While there are easily accessible online charts and poker solvers that players can use to help build their preflop ranges (see our GTO preflop ranges) are a lot more variables that come into play once the flop and community cards are dealt, which means what course of betting action you should take for your specific hand is not always so cut-and-dry.
That’s where the following 4 hand categories can be used, which helps players simplify their post-flop gameplan:
- Strong Hands
- Medium-Strength Hands
The rules for how to proceed from there are to bet with hands that fall under the 1st or 3rd category, and check those hands in the 2nd or 4th category (with the intention of calling most of those in the 2nd category when facing a bet, and folding to aggression for those hands in the 4th category). Yes, there will always be exceptions to these rules and these categories shouldn’t be used in every instance, but as a general guideline to help you determine what betting action to take, these categories will certainly help out novice players.
How Much To Bet In Poker: Bet Sizing Guidelines
In conjunction with selecting what hands you want to bet with, you also want to consider what bet sizing you will want to use. The optimal sizing of bet that you can make in poker is one that maximises your expected value (EV); in other words, the one that will net you the most winnings in the long run.
In this section, we’ll take a look at some generalised bet sizing concepts, along with those concepts specifically for value bets and bluffs, too.
SIZING OF BETS
Here are some general, important understandings to be made about bet sizing:
- Should the size of your bets be conducive to the strength of your hand? In general, your size of bets shouldn’t always correlate to the strength of your hand (meaning you’d bet big with your good hands and smaller with your weaker hands); this would make you easy to play against. Instead, you have to think about how your entire hand range and the hands you would choose to be betting with interact with the board and your opponents’ ranges.
- What makes bet sizes big or small? Bet sizes (as well as stack sizes) should always be viewed in terms of “big blinds” and not deal with the actual amount of dollars or currency that is used to make that bet. As for what makes a bet large or small, this is determined by how big your bet is in relation to the current size of the pot.
- What does the size of the bet usually mean? Larger-sized bets often suggest a polarised hand range, meaning that player will either have a very strong hand or a bluff. The smaller a bet is, the wider range of value hands a player should bet with and the fewer number of bluffs they should have. If you notice your opponent deviating from this principal, it will be important to adapt appropriately in order to counteract this.
- How will your opponents respond to different bet sizes? Because (in theory) when you use a smaller bet sizing, you are able to bet with more hand combinations than if you used a larger-sized bet, good opponents will counter appropriately by having a wide continuing range as well. By a similar note, if you bet large, then these same players only continue in the hand with a smaller, narrower range. Sometimes, you can use this concept exploitatively to your advantage by keeping an opponent’s range intentionally wide on earlier streets (by betting small), only to pound them with big bet sizes and aggression on future streets, where they’ll usually be so weak and simply have to fold such a big part of their range because they simply can’t continue versus a large sizing.
- What if my opponents do not react differently to bets of varying sizes? Realise that some weaker opponents have inelastic ranges, which means they’re going to call and fold the same hands regardless of whether they’re facing a large or small bet. Against these opponents, you cannot manipulate their continuing ranges like other players, but you can certainly use this knowledge to exploit them by betting smaller with your bluffs and larger with your value hands.
- River Bet Sizing: Theoretically speaking, with regards to bet sizing on the river, you should be bluffing with the same frequency your opponent should be calling with, based on pot odds. So if you bet ½-pot, your opponent would be getting 3-to-1 on a call, meaning when he calls, he only has to win more than 25% of the time in order to show a long-term profit. To appropriately counter this, your river betting range should consist of 25% bluffs and 75% value hands when you’re using a ½-pot bet.
When you bet for value, you usually want to choose a bet size that has the highest expected value, which means the highest profit margins over the long term.
This means that perhaps against players who call too frequently, you’ll want to bet a larger and wider hand range in order to maximise your winnings. For your unknown or more standard opponents, though, it doesn’t always mean you’re going to want to choose the largest-possible size of bet.
Imagine this: you have the best possible hand on the river and you want to make a bet. If you shove all-in for $250, you think that your opponent will call only 10% of the time. (Perhaps it’s a large overbet.) However, if you bet for $100, you think he might now call you 50% of the time. The EV of the larger bet is $250 x 10% = +$25 while the EV of the smaller bet is $100 x 50% = +$50. Therefore, while in specific instances (10% of the time), you will win more money by betting large, over the long-term, more money will be gained in this instance by betting small and getting called by a higher percentage of the time.
There are 4 core concepts to take into account when deciding upon bet sizing for bluffs and whether or not to follow-through with it:
- You should bet the smallest amount as possible that will still achieve the desired result of getting your opponent to fold (exploitative strategy). In some instances, your opponent will be ready to fold his hand to any size of bet, so if you think this is the case, use a small bet to get him to fold so that you can scoop up the pot yourself.
- The smaller your bet size, the fewer number of bluffs you should include into your betting range (and the greater number of value hands you should include); the bigger your bet size is, the more bluffs you can include into your betting range relative to the number of value hands you chose.
- Don’t try bluffing opponents who call down with weak holdings far more frequently than they should. To get them to fold (which can sometimes be quite difficult or impossible), it often involves you having to risk far too much money than is worth for the frequency they would actually fold their hand.
- To calculate how often a bluff needs to work to succeed in order for you to be profitable, the formula to use is: Your bet / (Pot Size + your bet). In other words, if you want to use a 33% pot bet, you’d need your opponent to fold about ($33 / ($100 + $33)) = 25% of the time or more in order for your bluff to be automatically profitable.
Two Betting Philosophies: GTO vs. Exploitative
When studying poker, players should be looking to develop and improve their Game Theory Optimal (GTO) play, which essentially refers to a balanced, unexploitable style of poker. By playing this strategy, players aim to play perfectly themselves and only profit from the mistakes their opponents are making.
Now while developing this as a standard, baseline strategy is important, the actual strategy that will be used in an incredibly high number of the actual games you play in (even in many higher stakes games) will be an exploitative one, which refers to countering the weaker tendencies you see in your opponents’ strategies in order to make a greater profit yourself. This is because most other players are NOT playing a GTO style of play themselves and almost all players will have some sort of trait that is exploitable in their play.
Here are some common adjustments to make against some players with certain exploitable tendencies:
Against “calling stations” – i.e. players who seem to call every time anyone raises:
- Avoid bluffing, either at all or as often as you might normally bluff.
- Value bet a wider hand range when you bet for value.
- Bet bigger against them with your stronger value hands.
Against straightforward opponents:
- “Continuation bet the flop at a high frequency to take down a high number of uncontested pots when they don’t flop anything special.
Against fish and overall weaker players:
- 3bet them preflop at a higher frequency in order to isolate and get them heads-up for post-flop play.
- Take extra care of paying attention to these players’ weaknesses and leaks, as they are the ones where your long-term profits may come from.
Summary: Betting Helps You Win In Poker
Not only is betting a fundamental part of poker that causes chips to shift constantly from player to player; doing it will help give you an extra way to win your hands other than just at showdown (i.e. every time your opponents choose to fold to your bet).
That said, there is certainly finesse to betting in poker and learning how to do it well. Using betting strategies that appropriately counter weaker opponents will certainly help you rake in the long-term profits from them, but it’s important also to develop a solid underlying GTO baseline so that you know what your standard betting lines for various situations are… and then how you should be deviating from them in order to play exploitatively.
All the best with the implementation of these strategies, and good luck at our tables!