The Ultimate Guide to Betting in Poker
Poker Betting Rules and When You Should Bet
- Reviewed by WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace
Betting is one of the most important aspects of playing poker. How much and how often we bet when playing Texas Hold’em can communicate a lot of information about our style, not to mention our hand. Of course, there are also times when it’s better to check instead of placing a bet.
On average, only around one in four poker hands makes it to showdown, so being able to bet effectively is crucial in picking up pots.
Below we take a detailed look at how to bet in poker, what poker betting rules you need to follow and situations when it might be better to check or fold.
Know Your Betting Options
When playing poker, you only ever have five options. Familiarize yourself with these so you can always make the right decision at the right time. You should know when to:
- CHECK: Stay in the hand without betting your money (provided nobody else bets).
- FOLD: Discard your cards, giving up any chance to continue in the hand and win the pot.
- BET: The first player to put money in the pot starts off the betting. Other players must then decide whether to call, fold or raise.
- CALL: Match the full amount that has been bet by another player in order to stay in the hand.
- RAISE: Increase the amount of the existing bet. Other players will then have to fold, call, or raise your bet.
Betting Vs. Calling
There is a big difference between calling and raising. The former is a more passive move, while the latter uses aggression to put the decision back on your opponents.
When you call an existing bet, you are not putting any pressure on your opponent. Remember that, on average, 3/4 of all hands are won when somebody bets and everybody else folds. Nobody folds to a call.
When you are the aggressor, either by making an initial bet or raising the existing one, you are forcing your opponents to react and giving yourself a chance to win the pot before it gets to showdown. This should reinforce the importance of aggression in poker, and show why passive play rarely proves profitable.
When To Check
When you bet you generally don’t want to send out any signs of weakness, but one common mistake a lot of players make is to reduce the size of their bets in the later rounds (turn and/or river) when they’re lacking confidence in their hand.
Let’s say in a $1/2 cash game, you raise to $7 preflop and then bet $10 on the flop. The turn is a scare card which causes you to doubt whether you still have the best hand. If you are not willing to bet at least what you bet in the last round ($10), then you should probably just check. If you don’t think you have the best hand, and you’re not willing to bluff, don’t put any more chips into the pot.
Lots of players will try to make a defensive bet in this situation, say $5, in an effort to keep their opponent from betting more than that. But reducing the size of a bet from one round to the next is usually a sign of weakness, and good players will pounce on that decision and raise you, meaning you either just threw away the $5 you bet (because you are going to fold) or you will put more money into the pot than you really wanted to (because you now feel compelled to call).
Your bets should at least stay consistent from street to street and will ideally increase with each round.
Betting To Take Down The Hand
Let’s say you are in a multi-table tournament and get A-J in middle position. The big blind is 200 and it folds to you. What size bet should you make?
Most standard opening bets fall somewhere in the 2.5-3 times the big blind range (500-600). Putting in a preflop raise somewhere in this range should be enough to scare away all the trash-hand players and boil the action down to one or two to see the flop.
Let’s say you bet 550, the button and the big blind call and the flop comes A-Q-4 rainbow (different suits). At this point, having flopped top pair with a good kicker, you can be reasonably confident you are ahead.
There are just a few hands that beat you (pocket aces, pocket queens, pocket 4s, A-K, A-Q, A-4 and Q-4). It is probably safe to assume that pocket aces, pocket queens, A-K and A-Q would have re-raised you preflop (at least they should have with the presence of more than one other player still active in the pot). It’s probably also safe to assume that Q-4 would have folded pre-flop, leaving you only to worry about pocket 4s and A-4.
The big blind is first to act and checks to you, leaving you the decision to either check or bet.
This would be a good time for a continuation bet, for several reasons.
- You have a strong hand and are likely ahead. When you think you are ahead in a hand, you really don’t want to give your opponents a chance to get a free card and catch up.
- One of the two players may have an ace with a lower kicker and may call your bet.
- There are plenty of chips already in the pot (1,750 – or nine big blinds), so it’s worth an attempt to win it there and then.
- Your opponents are already inclined to believe you have a good hand because of your preflop raise. A good follow-up bet of about half the pot size (850) will likely confirm their suspicions you have an ace and scare them away.
Betting As A Bluff
You can’t always rely on having the best cards to win. That’s why learning to bluff is so important. For more detailed information on the art of the bluff, read the CardsChat guide to bluffing. But a few rules to remember for betting as a bluff are:
- Figure out when your opponents are not particularly strong. This will make them more susceptible to a bluff. Look for signs of weakness and up the aggression.
- Recognize and exploit threats on the board. You may have raised pre-flop with K-Q suited and then completely missed the A-7-5 flop. However, your opponents are going to be inclined to believe you have a strong hand so a continuation bet may take down the pot, even against good players with middle pocket pairs.
- In multi-table tourneys, don’t try to bluff too much in the early stages when the blinds – and often the pots – are small. Use the early part of the tournament to build up your chip stack so you can afford to take a stab or two at a bluff in the later rounds.
You also need to make sure your bets tell a consistent story. If you limp into a pot preflop, check-call the flop, check the turn and then all of a sudden make a huge bet on the river, your story doesn’t make a lot of sense. The size of the bet might scare people away, but the inconsistent manner in which you played the hand might also give away that you are bluffing. Remember that when you are bluffing, you don’t want to give people a reason to call you.
Know Your Opponent
Determining your opponents’ relative playing abilities is key in setting your betting style. It is much easier to bluff a good player than a bad player, so if you find yourself up against several inexperienced players, it is probably a good idea to shelve any bluffing tactics. Instead, these are the players you should be value betting against constantly.
Value betting means betting or raising in the hopes that your opponent(s) will call with worse hands (as opposed to bluffing, which has the opposite intent – you want players to fold better hands). Less experienced players are not going to fold whenever they connect with a flop or get a pocket pair, so keep the pressure on these players all the way to the river if you feel you have the best hand. Size your bets so they are likely to call and these players will keep calling well beyond when they should fold, giving you a nice, big pot.
If your opponents are tight, then bluffing can be more profitable because they are more likely to lay down a decent hand against an aggressive player.
Similarly, if you are up against aggressive players and you know there is a good chance a player will raise your bet, you should take that into consideration before putting any chips into the pot. If you decide you are going to fold if they raise you, then a check may be a wiser move.
Manage Your Table Image
Your table image refers to how other players in the game think of you, and this can play a big role in the effectiveness of your betting.
If you come across as a loose player who sees just about every flop and almost always puts out a continuation bet on the flop if they’ve raised preflop, then expect a lot more players to either call or raise your bets.
On the other hand, if you are seen as a tight player who folds frequently to bets and raises, then expect savvy players to bet into you more often. This could work to your advantage, of course, when you have a really strong hand, but it also will force you to make a lot of decisions and it will increase the importance of your cards connecting with the flop. This style will cause other players to respect your raises more, but that means you may have difficulty building up substantial pots because players are folding to your bets.
Your betting is how you communicate the relative strength (or weakness) of your hand to the other players at the table. A strong, decisive bet indicates a strong hand, or at least that is what you want your opponents to believe. When playing live you should be ready and, when it is your turn to act, announce your action clearly and put the chips in the pot in one clean motion. The best poker players will be able to pick up on any tells you give away, so try to stay consistent in how you physically execute your moves at the table.
Calling, checking, hesitation, fumbling with your chips, indecision and re-checking your cards several times are all actions that indicate weakness. Don’t give your opponents more information than you need to – unless it’s false information, of course! Find even more ways to raise your game in our poker strategy guides.
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