Monday, January 9, 2012

Why We Bet

[I had a conversation w/ Mr. Multi today about a hand he's currently involved with in the WRGPT "Glaciers" poker-by-email tournament. This dovetailed nicely into something I put together for a small poker how-to handbook I'm working on in my spare time. Here is the intro to the betting section in the handbook:]

Every single decision we make--and every single action we perform—at a poker table should have a sound, logical reason behind it. Unfortunately, many beginning players lose sight of this fact when they’re in the middle of a poker hand. For example, let’s say a new poker player is dealt KTs on the button and they raise when the action folds to them preflop. If you were to pause the action and ask why he or she raised in this particular situation, they often can’t answer very definitively. They might be working from a starting hand chart, for example, and the chart says to raise in LP if the action is folded to you when you hold KTs. So this is what they did.

While this is perfectly okay when first learning poker, you can’t continue very long blithely following a chart without understanding why it recommends raising or calling. In the long run, knowing the why in poker is much more important than the what.

So why might a chart recommend raising with KTs in LP? Answer: because there aren’t very many people left to act, and it’s likely that everyone remaining will fold, allowing you to win the blinds uncontested. In other words, you’re raising primarily as a bluff. If someone does decide to call your raise, however, you will have position. And because KTs is relatively strong in a shorthanded situation, it stands a reasonable chance of becoming the best hand at a showdown.

Recall that there are two--and ONLY two--ways to win a poker hand (show down the best hand, or get everyone else to fold). This means that there are two—and only two--primary reasons that we should bet in poker:
  1. For Value; i.e., we bet to cause our opponents to call with worse hands than ours; or
  2. For Bluff; i.e., we bet to cause our opponents to fold better hands than ours.
If neither of these reasons is valid, you should almost never bet. In the KTs hand example, we are initially betting to achieve the second result; we would be very happy if everyone folded. This type of preflop bet from LP is often called a “steal,” which is essentially a type of bluff.

If our hand had been something like KK, however, we could have bet a similar amount if it folded to us, but our reason for doing so now would have been very different. The what was the same, but the why would be different. In the KK case, we would be betting for Value, while with KTs we would be betting as a Bluff.

So why is this important? Because once you begin playing against good opponents at higher stakes, the use of rote starting hand charts and formulaic plays will quickly be realized by your thinking opponents—and they will crush you. Being able to adjust and adapt are keys to winning, and this starts with understanding the why’s.

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