Reasons Why You Should Bet

I got a question for you.

When you make a bet, do you know why? In other words, when you say ‘I bet 250,’ in the back of your mind do you know what you want the outcome to be?

Probably not.

You’re not alone though. When I first started playing poker I would bet for the sake of it. If the answer wasn’t clear, like I wanted to win money with my strong hand, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a reason, or my reason wouldn’t have been very good.

Betting without reason is a leak. Combine it with other leaks like playing dominated hands or every hand, and you have a cocktail that will leave you broke.

Bad Reasons for Betting

When questioned players will give you 2 common reasons for why they made their bets. But they’re not good reasons. I want to explain why they’re not valid.

1. Betting for protection.

The idea here is that you have a hand, but you want to protect it from draws or over cards on subsequent streets. For example, if you 88 on a 3-5-7 flop, you’d bet with the reasoning that you want to protect your hand from 9s or better on the turn.

The reason why this response isn’t valid is because protection is a byproduct of betting for value. In other words, you’re not betting because you don’t want someone to catch their hand on the turn, but instead so that they’re incorrectly making the call to try to do so. Remember, this is a long term game – when someone makes a bad call, over the long run it’s unprofitable, regardless of whether they make their hand on the turn or river, or not.

2. Betting for information.

Another invalid reason is to bet for information. The idea is that you bet to get an idea of if your hand is any good or how strong it might compared to your opponent.

This reasoning is flawed because any information you get is vague and does nothing for you other than lead you to make assumptions.

For example, say you bet with AK on a K-Q-9 two-tone flop. Your opponent, in position, decides to re-raise you. What information do you have here? Sure, he could have a made hand, like JT or two pair. He could also have a bluff or semi-bluff (flush and/or straight draw). If your opponent calls instead, what information do you gather then? A draw? Sure, but he could be slow playing the nuts, too, or floating with a top / second pair type of hand. If he folds, all you gathered there was that his hand was too weak to continue.

Ultimately, both answers are a byproduct of the correct reasons to bet. When you bet for the following reasons, you’ll find that you also ‘protect your hand’ or ‘gain information’ from/on your opponent.

The 3 Reasons to Bet

There are only 3 correct reasons for placing a bet. When you place a bet with these reasons in mind, everything else (including not-so-good reasons) falls into place. Your bets will have a purpose, and you’ll lose less / make more money as a result.

1. Bet for value.

The idea behind this reason is that you bet to earn money (or induce mistakes) from worst hands. For example, if you have an ace on a flop like A-K-4 rainbow and your opponent calls with a king, you’re betting for value.

To determine whether or not you’re betting for value, you need to ask yourself if you think worse hands can call. Take the same flop, but give yourself a pair of 4s instead. Can worse call you on this flop? Unlikely – QJ, QT, JT, etc. might call, but most reasonable players will fold if they’re given incorrect odds.

If you can’t answer the question with a yes, you’re not betting for value. There’s a chance that you shouldn’t be betting at all.

2. Bet to bluff.

When you bet with the reason to bluff, your desired outcome is to get better hands to fold. For example, say you have QJ on the A-K-4 rainbow flop – you want a pair of 4s to fold since you’re behind in the hand.

Again, before you can claim that you’re betting to bluff, you need to ask yourself if your opponent can actually be bluffed. Do you actually expect them to fold?

For example, say your opponent is a loose passive player. These players can’t be bluffed, so it doesn’t make sense to bet. A nit with stats of 10/8, on the other hand, can (and will) fold.

To give you another example, say that you have a pair of 4s on the A-K-4 rainbow flop. If you were sure that your opponent had an ace or king, it wouldn’t make sense to bet to bluff here. They’re not folding the flop with an ace, and a lot (if not most) players will at least call the flop with a king. So betting with your 4s (or anything, for that matter) makes no sense. You’re throwing good money after bad.

3. Bet to win dead money.

The last reason to bet is for dead money. Dead money is what’s in the pot already. It’s more or less of a stretch compared to the other reasons, but it is a valid reason to bet.

Here are a couple of examples of betting for dead money.

  • When you’re in a multi-way pot on the flop. You’re the last to act. It checks around to you, you bet and pick up the pot.
  • You shove all in with a short stack.

In either case you don’t expect anyone to call with worse, and you prefer a fold, so you’re not betting for value. And since you don’t expect someone to fold better, you’re not betting to bluff.

The Bottom Line…

These are the only reasons why you should be betting. Can you see how you’ll also gain information and protection when you stick to these 3 reasons? Not only will you have an idea of where you stand, and induce others to make mistakes, but in doing so you avoid betting –not to mention losing money—for the sake of it.