In a very real sense, every decision we make at the poker table is going to be related to the concept of risk-taking. All poker decisions are a measure of probabilities of risk/reward, so it's going to be very important to at least get a good grasp of effective risk/reward management early on, to ensure we are on the right track to success.
The usual way of thinking about this is pretty simple. In playing for value (making decisions based upon the strength of your hand), base your decisions upon the relative value of your hand. This is common sense, right? Well it's very common indeed, but you very often can't base your decisions on this alone.
The way players get led astray here is to only think of one component of the risk/reward model - the reward one. Betting more when the probability of winning is higher, and less when it is not. There is more to consider here, as we shall see.
As the potential reward increases, the potential risk in most cases increases as well. If you have the absolute nuts, the best hand possible, then this isn't going to apply. But it will in all other cases. Here's the thing: by not accounting for both risk and reward correctly, you will run into a lot of situations where the risk increases at a higher rate than the reward, and in spite of having a very good hand, you have to be wary of limiting your exposure (in other words, the amount of money you're risking in it).
A simple example of this is in no-limit, where you "over-bet" the pot. This means you make a bet large enough so that the only way you're going to get called is if your opponent probably has you beat. Needless to say, this move can easily lead to losing money in the long run.
While this is a more important concept in no-limit, in limit it's still important to understand the principles here, although this will no doubt seem pretty advanced for the newer player. We will of course explore this issue in much more depth as the lessons progress, but there's a few things that are necessary to understand here to get the most out of your play.
Let's look at 3 types of moves, and for now look at it from a limit perspective. The moves are: betting, raising, and calling. Now, keep in mind that as we look at this, it only addresses straightforward play (playing for value) and doesn't deal with things like semi-bluffing. We have something good here, and our goal is to both get the most out of the hand when we win, all the while considering our risk exposure.
First, we need to understand that, while it's helpful to know where we're at against a random hand, we need to always consider what the opponent may have, and make sure we factor this in properly. So, his is also going to involve the styles of opponents - what hands they bet, check, call, and raise with. This is why it's important to pay attention closely to the game, and get as good a read on our opponents as we can.
Now, say we have a pretty good idea what the opponents in the hand will play in this situation. I'm going to give you a set of rules which will apply to what sort of move we will make, based on what we have, what they may likely have, and also what they could have. Again, this is independent of fold equity considerations (benefits of winning by their folding). or opponents bluffing, both which we'll get into later. This deals with straightforward play on both sides. To illustrate the considerations of no-limit play in here as well, these will be put in brackets. So here are the 4 rules of thumb:
1. Only bet (the amount) when by getting called, you would still be the favorite to win the hand.
2. Only raise (the amount) when by having the raise called, you would still be the favorite to win the hand.
3. Call when by calling (the amount) you would still be the favorite to win the hand, but you're not strong enough that if you raise and are called, you would still be the favorite.
4. Otherwise, check and fold.
So we always want to be attentive to what kind of hand our players would make a particular move with prior to deciding what particular move we will make. The pattern here is that you always want to be the favorite both prior to and after the betting round. Both considerations are necessary when determining the risk/reward. The first part is something that many players need to work on, the second is something most players don't pay a lot of attention to. By our doing so, we will further extend our advantage over them, and beat them more often than they beat us, take more of their money when we beat them, and have them take less of ours when it goes their way. And our growing account balances will thank us.