Over the course of your online poker career, you will be dealt aces once every 221 hands. So will your opponents. The difference between being a long term winner and a long term loser is getting the most value out of your strong hands and losing the least from your weak hands.
When it comes down to it, you must have the ability to manipulate the size of the pot in your favor with your bets. In some ways, calling bets is easier than making them. Often, you will call or fold based on a mathematical conclusion; however, making bets requires you to think deeper, with consideration for your opponents’ likely holdings and proclivities to certain hands. To master optimal betting strategy you must first master all other facets of the game, because making the correct bet requires you to analyze the situation from every angle.
There are many reasons you might make a bet:
- As a bluff or semi-bluff
- To block a larger bet
- To get value from your hand
Since bluffing is more often determined by your knowledge of your opponent than by the cards on the board, we’ll focus on value betting. Simply put, your goal should be to induce your opponent to call the largest possible amount when they are behind or drawing.
Hand Ranges in Poker
First you must assign a reasonable range of hands to your opponent based on the information already available in the hand. From there, determine how many outs your opponent likely has that will give him the better hand. Your bet should certainly lay odds that are worse than the odds that his draw will come in, but more often than not your opponents will be willing to call bets that are much larger than the mathematical equilibrium.
Using your knowledge of your opponent (does he call large bets with flush draws, does he continue in the hand with second or third pair, for instance), size your bet as large as possible while allowing him to continue in the hand. If your opponent has a flush draw on the turn, you have to bet about 40% of the pot to be sure he has the wrong odds to draw; however, you should usually bet more than that, as your opponents are willing to make that mistake.
Optimal betting isn’t always about betting large. Poker is a game of small margins, so making small bets to keep your opponent in a hand with a subpar hand is often important to raising your winrate. Many players will call small bets when they are clearly beat simply because of the pot odds. They figure that their hand has a certain chance of actually being the best, when in fact it has no chance of being good. As a matter of fact, it should be your hand reading skills that influence you to bet small. If you deduce that your opponent has a weak hand, such as third pair, and you know he will not call more than a quarter pot-sized bet, that should be your maximum bet. Notice that it doesn’t matter what cards you hold, as long as they can beat third pair.
A few more important points need to be made. If your opponent thinks he has the best hand, there’s no reason to count his outs, because he’s certainly not thinking about them at all. In fact, he’s probably thinking about your outs, and he may very well raise you if he believes he is ahead. For that reason, if you think your opponent thinks he is ahead, you should bet significantly more than normal if you can beat his holding. This point has corollary to the next: if you believe your opponent has a strong draw to a second best hand, you should seek to keep him in the hand with a smaller than normal bet. If your opponent makes his hand, he’ll surely go broke, so you win more by letting him hit his draw and bust than by betting large and blowing him off his hand on the previous street.