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Purposes of Betting

An introduction to the key concepts of betting for value, for hand protection, for information or as a bluff. Plus, how to match your bet size to its intended purpose.

Knowing why and when to bet is one of the key skills in poker, and it is also crucial to know how much you should wager once you have decided to enter a pot.

We have seen in previous lessons how you can assess your hand, both before and after the flop, and this lesson guides you through the betting process, once you have decided to play.

In order to figure out the right time to bet, it is imperative to understand why we might want to. Broadly speaking, there are four different reasons to bet:
  • To build a pot and gain value for a strong hand (a "value" bet)
  • To protect a strong hand and make sure opponents are forced to pay to continue in a pot (a "protection" bet)
  • To force other people to fold so that your weak hand can win (a "bluff")
  • To learn information about the strength of an opponent's hand (an "information" bet)

Betting For Value

When you have a stronger hand than your opponents, the ideal scenario is that you bet and are called (at least). This ensures that there is more money in the pot for you to win with your better hand.

Putting money in the pot when your hand is the strongest gains you "value", and value bets help you to maximise the return from your winning hands.

 You have  and the flop has come . You have top pair (aces) with top kicker (king) and your hand can only improve (if another ace or king comes on turn or river, or another heart.) You should definitely bet to build the pot and maximise your return from your strong holding.

Betting For Protection

The incremental manner in which a full poker hand is exposed - pre-flop, on the flop, turn and then river - means that the lead in a hand can change as new cards are exposed. It is possible for one hand to be ahead pre-flop, another to overtake it after the flop, and a third or fourth still to overtake them both on the turn or river.

When a favoured hand is beaten by a weaker hand, it is said to be "out-drawn" and the aim of a "protection" bet is to safeguard against this. If you have a big hand but it is vulnerable to being out-drawn, you might want to make a protection bet. It forces your opponent to pay even more money to hit a draw, else fold their cards and yield the pot at the stage that your hand is still ahead.

Player 1 has 
Player 2 has 
Player 3 has 
Player 4 has 

Player 1 is leading at the start of the hand with a pair of aces, but a flop of  puts Player 2 ahead with a set of jacks. A turn of  would put Player 3 ahead with his ace-high flush, but a river of  would put Player 4 ahead with a seven-high straight flush.

The full board would read:  and the players' hands would be as follows:

Player 1 would have two pair, aces and threes ()
Player 2 would have a full house, jacks over threes ()
Player 3 would have an ace-high flush ()
Player 4 would have a seven-high straight flush ()

At any stage, each player might have wanted to make either a value or a protection bet, either to build the pot or to protect his hand. Only Player 4 can make a pure value bet at the end, knowing he has an unbeatable hand, aka "the nuts".
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Bet Sizing

To bet, or not to bet, is the first question - then you need to know how much. Why small bets are better when y ...

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