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Purposes of Betting
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".

Betting as a Bluff

For many people who don't know very much about poker, "bluffing" is considered to be a central element of the game. But although bluffing plays a part in poker, you should only consider it if you think there is a decent chance of forcing an opponent to fold. 

Bluffing is the name given to the process of making a bet with a weak hand and forcing other players to throw away better hands. The second part of that process is equally as important as the first.

 You hold  in late position and raise before the flop. The player in the big blind calls. The flop is  and your opponent checks.

You have only king high, with a jack kicker, which is a very weak hand and has very slim chances of improving. But there is also a decent chance your opponent has nothing either.

If your opponent checks - indicating a weak hand - it is a good idea to make a bet in order to get him to fold. Even if he has a hand like  or  he may be persuaded to fold. Both those hands are better than yours but will often fold against a bluff.

Betting For Information

It is very tricky to bet only to gain information, and it helps if you know precisely what you want to find out and how your opponents tend to react in specific situations.

If, for instance, you know that an opponent will always raise with a strong hand (and will rarely bluff), you can make a small bet to find out how strong her hand is. If she raises your bet then you should fold. If she only calls then you should feel confident that she is perhaps waiting for more cards to hit a draw.

An information bet only works if you can trust the information you receive and are disciplined enough to act on it.

 You have  and have raised from mid position pre-flop. A tight-passive opponent has called on the button and you have seen a flop of . You have the option to check or bet but do not know if your pair of aces, with a weak kicker, is ahead.

You might decide to make a small bet for information. If your tight opponent raises, you can expect them to have at least a pair of aces with a bigger kicker and should throw away your hand. If your opponent calls, then you learn that he maybe has two hearts in his hand and is waiting for another to make a flush. (If he folds, you have won the pot without contest.)

A lot of beginners and intermediate players attempt to bet for information too often. The problem is that the information is not precise: you will often either get information that you cannot use very well, or you can encourage a good player to deliberately give you false information.

In the example above, a good player, with positional advantage against you, might raise with a weak hand or with a heart draw. You would then be forced to throw away your hand after your opponent has fed you false information. Alternatively, he might only call with a hand like . You are losing to this hand, but your opponent has not given you this information, and you may be encouraged to bet again on the turn.

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