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In this lesson we'll look into a little more detail at rationales for placing bets in poker.  Although there's different types of betting - placing bets, calling bets, and placing raises, we'll look at this in terms of staying in the hand (betting, calling, or raising) versus not being in the hand, and seek to develop some overall principles common to all forms of placing money in the pot.

In all cases, we're determining that we feel our advantage is high enough to justify the particular bet, raise, or call.  It's just like betting with a friend over a certain thing, or placing a bet on a sports game - we feel we're right, and we're prepared to put our money where our mouth is.  Our perceived advantage may be based on the strength of our hand and/or our confidence in winning the pot by opponents folding, added together and compared to the amount won if we're right and lost if we're wrong.

Now, this may seem like an obvious point, but it may not be the case that we're thinking this way all the time in making our decisions at the poker table.   And with a lot of players, they don't think about this near enough.  Instead, they make their decisions based upon certain patterns which may or may not be in accord with having an advantage that you'd bet on.

Let's take a simple example of this.  Let's say you're at a table where most of the time you get called down.  2 cards are dealt to each player.  You look at your hand, and you either fold or continue on with the hand based upon some reasoning or other.  Your staying in the hand though is like saying "I bet all you people I have the advantage here to win these bets and I'm putting up money to prove it."  Yet the cards you play may be based upon something else - a hand chart you've read in a book perhaps, or perhaps that you've got in the habit of playing certain hands.  Your hand may be in fact far from good enough among a typical distribution of 10 hands in fact.  But if you don't have the advantage here, you're betting when you're more likely to lose money than win it.  Is it any wonder why most players lose consistently at this game?

Instead, we want to make good bets, not bad ones.  Good bets are when our chances are in our favor.  In other words, we will win more money with a particular move than we will lose. 

What about the money odds though?  Isn't it true that you can have an inferior hand and it still be in your best interests to continue?  Of course, and in some cases you may actually be the favorite even though you have the weakest hand at the table.  An example would be a nut straight flush draw, where all you have is ace high, and 3 opponents all have you beat right now, but odds are you'll hit your hand and beat them more often than not.

And the amount of money that's in the pot versus the cost of playing is certainly going to be a big factor.  A classic example of this is when it you are probably behind, but it only costs a small amount to call at the river, and if you win, you're going to make quite a bit. 

As a rule of thumb though, there are 2 main situations you are going to find yourself in when it comes to playing on.  The first is, of course, when you probably have the best chances based upon the current strength of your hand.  This is a little different from having the best hand now, as the best hand now in some cases wouldn't be likely to hold up.  For instance, on a flop with 3 low cards, and plenty of opponents, you may have top pair but little chance to win the hand.  The other situation you want to play on with is where you are drawing to what is likely the best hand, and the payoff for hitting it is high enough to make the investment worthwhile.  This is an advantage as well of course, because making the play is going to have a positive expectation over time.

In the case of hand strength, we will want to contribute money to the pot, and we will want our opponents to do so as well.  This is because the increased profit from doing so for us makes this worthwhile.  For example, you have a pair of aces, with one card to come, and your opponents have lower pairs.  Everyone has an equal chance of improving their hand, but they need to and you don't to win the hand.  You want to not only increase the size of the pot, but make them pay to continue at a higher rate than the odds of hitting their hand.  In other words, it costs them one more bet to make 2, and the odds of them improving enough to win are too remote to make this worthwhile.  So you are forcing them to further their disadvantage, and thus your advantage, by you all putting more money in.

If you're the one who is in need of improvement though, while you may very well seek to continue with the hand, you want to generally act in accordance with the money odds of a particular round, although as long as the overall money odds are favorable, you'll continue.  Let's take an example where you have the nut flush draw.  Let's say you'll win the hand if you hit another of your suit, or hit an ace.  And you've got the same 2 opponents.  So there's 12 outs for you on both the turn and river. 

The first thing we need to look at is whether it's worthwhile to bet it here - whether you'd want a free card if you could get it, in other words.  We'll assume the other 2 opponents will call if you bet.  The additional money in the pot will be 2 extra bets earned if you win the hand, and 1 extra bet lost if you don't.  You have roughly a 50% chance of winning the hand though, so this would be a profitable move.  If your outs were less, it may not be.

The other thing is to look at the implied odds.  In other words, what you'll probably make overall if you hit, versus what you'll probably make if you don't.  This is what is used in determining whether you'll stay in the hand or not.  If the payoff isn't big enough in accordance with the cost of continuing, the chances of winning, and the amount that will be won, then it won't be profitable to continue.

So now we have a basic framework for our betting strategy.  We will remain in hands when it is profitable to do so, based on our chances of winning, the cost, and the amount won.  When it's favorable we'll stay in, and when it's unfavorable, we'll fold.  And we'll look at the odds for each round to decide whether we'll bet it out, or raise, and do so when it's also to our advantage.

These are very simple examples, and of course there are other considerations we'll want to be looking at it as well.  We'll be dealing with this issue in more specific instances in future lessons of course, but now we've at least set out what we need to be looking for as far as the basics of what will constitute an advantage when it comes to deciding particular decisions at the table.
Betting Strategies
Tiger Gaming
Poker Lesson 14