Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A controversial opinion on cash game betting....

Long-time readers are probably sick of me writing this, but here we go again: there are two primary reasons we should bet or raise in cash game poker: for Value or as a Bluff. Sometimes we do it as a combination of these two things (i.e., a semi-bluff), and on occasion we sometimes bet to isolate a bad player preflop, but that's a rare, secondary reason (and actually its reasons are rooted in both pot and fold equity).

We don't bet for information. We don't bet to find out where we are in a hand....

...and we should not be betting to protect our hand against draws.

Let me say that again for those of you shaking your heads: You should not be betting for the reason of charging your opponent the wrong price to chase his or her straight or flush. Sure, that definitely needs to be considered in your bet sizing, but it should not be the reason you're adding more chips into the pot. If your opponent is on a draw, you should be betting to add money to the pot because you have value. You have more equity than him, so you want to build that value as much as possible.

I received an email question from a reader the other day that went through a hand analysis they did. In this post-mortem, they performed very sound R and E steps of REDi, but when they got to the D step, they decided their line was a "protection" line; i.e., the other guy had an OESD, and they needed to protect their hand. They wanted to keep him from making his hand, so they were going to bet big.

I wrote back that you can't actually keep someone from making their hand. If they call, and they're getting the wrong odds to call, then you've done your job. You had a better hand, you had value, and so you bet an amount that kept them in the pot, but gave them the wrong odds to draw. If they get there, they get there... that's just the nature of poker. The trick is sizing your bet to a) keep them around; and b) charge them the wrong amount to do so.

Poker is simple. We bet (or raise) to get worse hands to call, or to get better hands to fold. When you think your opponent is on a draw and you have top pair top kicker, you have equity in the pot. You have value that you want to increase. By definition, he has a worse hand than you. You therefore need to bet the maximum amount you can that still keeps this worse hand in the pot. You actually want your opponent to stick around and not fold. You do not want the draws to go away. Why? Because they have a worse hand than you, that's why.

Let's repeat: you do not want to chase away worse hands.

Now, of course, you want to bet more than the amount he mathematically needs to chase his draw, but that's not why you should be betting. That's how you should be betting. You should be betting to build value with your value hand against a worse hand (i.e., a draw).

Ignore any poker advice that tells you to bet to protect. Seriously. Tell that expert they're wrong. Tell them you only bet for one of two reasons. And against draws, that reason is to build value, which in turn will "protect" your equity. Not the other way around.

[Edit: another way to think of this problem is as follows: Imagine that you have KK and your opponent has an under pair like 99 or JJ. You hand is better than his hand, so you bet for Value. Doing so builds the pot. You want to bet as much as you can, but not so much that he folds; you want to keep him in the pot. In a sense he's drawing to a set, which could in fact beat you. But so what? You're not betting to "protect" against the set, right? No, you're betting to extract Value from him. Now, instead of an under pair, imagine he has a flush draw. Your hand is better than his hand, so you bet for Value. Doing so builds the pot. You want to bet as much as you can, but not so much that he folds; you want to keep him in the pot. Sound familiar? The only difference between these two "draws" is the number of outs he has, and therefore the required size of your bet. Now do you believe me?]
[Edit #2: keep in mind that this assertion of mine is valid only in cash games. I do believe there are instances in MTTs that "protection" bets are completely justified, as your tournament life has to be a major factor in your D is for Deciding step.]

All-in for now...

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