Why Your Bets Need a Purpose in Texas Hold’em

If you want to be successful in No-Limit Hold'em, you have to act with a plan in mind at all times.

Many poker players bet with little thought as to what their goal is.

You should know exactly why you are betting before you put a single chip into the pot. When you bet without a clear goal in mind, you're throwing money away.

Your bets need to have a specific purpose. There are only two reasons for betting or raising:

  • You either want to make a worse hand call or
  • You want to make a better hand fold

Is It a Value Bet?

When your goal is to get your opponent to call with a hand worse than yours, you're betting for value. If you have a hand you think is better than your opponent's range, you bet to get value from your opponent's worse hand.

Leo Margets
Betting for value is fundamental.

Betting for value is one of the most fundamental skills in No-Limit Hold'em. It's how you get paid on your big hands and is really the entire essence of the game.

If you had to explain to a friend who didn't know the game why poker can be profitable, it's likely what you would talk about most.

You would tell them, "Winning players know when their hand is better than their opponents', and they only bet when they feel they have the best of it."

Before you decide to bet for value you should ask yourself:

"If I bet, is my opponent going to call me with worse?"

If you believe the answer is yes, attempt to list the types of hands you extract value from.

An example:

$1/$2 game online poker. $200 effective stacks.

You have A♠ A♣ on the button and raise to $8.

The loose big blind calls and the flop comes J♥ 7♥ 3♠.

Your opponent bets $12.

You decide your hand is far better than your opponent's range and if you raise, he's very likely going to continue with worse hands. But, before you bet, let's think about what types of hands he will give you value with.

Your opponent is a looser player and is unlikely to fold any jacks, so we can add AJ-JT to his calling range. He is also likely going to peel all of his draws with random pairs smaller than jacks, like TT-88 and some sevens.

Matt Marafioti
Before you bet, think.

Since your opponent will continue with so many hands worse than yours, you have an easy value raise. Thus, you raise to $40.

Use Information for Educated Holdem Guesses

Of course, sussing out what your opponent will and will not pay you off with is never 100% accurate. You have to use the information you've gained from playing with him to make educated guesses.

Knowing what your opponent is likely to pay you off with is a skill that separates the good players from the great.

The great players always seem to know when their hand is best and they are capable of making razor-thin value bets.

Over time you will improve your value bets if you always ask yourself which hands your opponent will pay you off with. If you can't think of any worse hands that will call, then you're no longer betting for value.

The Bluff Bet

If you aren't betting for value, you're betting to make a better hand fold. This is technically a bluff.

When you choose to bluff, you concede to yourself that your hand has no chance to win at showdown.

The only way you can win the pot is by making your opponent fold his better hand, thus turning an unprofitable hand into a profitable one.

To do this, you again have to be able to put your opponent on a range. Think about the types of hands he likely holds, and decide whether they can stand heat or not. If the bulk of his range is weak, then fire a bet.

Sebastian Ruthenberg
If you can't think of worse hands that call, you're not betting for value.

However, if he has a hand that a) is not worse than yours and b) is never going to fold, then betting accomplishes nothing.

An Example:

$1/$2 game online. $200 effective stacks.

You're dealt T♣ T♥ on the button and raise to $8.

Your opponent in the big blind calls and the flop comes A♥ 9♠ 7♥.

The big blind checks and you bet $12.

He calls and the turn comes J♦.

He checks, you bet $25 and he calls.

The river comes K♠. He checks.

Now think about it. If you bet, is he ever going to call with worse? Probably not.

What about if you bet hoping he folds better? Well, that isn't very likely either.

If your opponent called the turn, he's almost always going to call the river with any hand that beats you.

If, on the other hand, he missed his draw, he isn't going to call a bet anyway.

You're better off checking through and just seeing a showdown than turning a hand with some showdown value into a bluff.

Gray Areas

There are some times when you're neither betting for value nor are you betting to make a better hand fold. A continuation bet's goal is to win the pot immediately; it isn't to extract value or to make a better hand fold.

In most continuation bet situations you're really only betting to collect dead money. You raised before the flop and the flop usually helps neither of you.

Sandra Naujoks
Information is just a bonus.

You bet because you have the initiative gained by being the pre-flop raiser. Since your opponent was the passive player pre-flop, he will often just concede the pot to you.

This is really the only gray area. The rest of the time you make a bet, you should have a clear purpose in mind.

It's a Bad Bet if ...

Often you will hear new players justifying their bets by saying they're betting for information.

This is incorrect thinking. By betting you may gain information, true. But that's only a bonus, and shouldn't be the sole reason for it.

Your goals should be clear in your mind before you elect to put your bet or raise into the pot. If your bet doesn't get a worse hand to call or a better hand to fold, it's a bad bet.

If you eliminate those bad bets from your arsenal and ask yourself every time, "Why am I betting?" you're going to end up making better bets.

Before you know it you'll have added a few points to your win rate.

More intermediate strategy articles:

2015-03-28 06:28:25

This is a really good article which is easy to read, and the concept of betting with a purpose as explained here really does clear up so many post-flop scenarios. I think when you understand the concept of making a better hand fold or making a worse hand call, your post-flop betting tends to be much more straight forward, rather than just betting for no reason.

2009-05-21 15:00:00

I went through this article again. With time I can say that it’s really a crucial strategy point. Great read.

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