Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2007) in Poker Player newspaper.
For the last two entries, we’ve been dealing with questions and answers important to poker success. Today, we move onward (today’s word), further exploring this method of teaching — one where I get to choose the questions that I answer.
This method works for me — and I hope it works for you, too. You see, I just got tired of being asked questions by reporters that often don’t pinpoint the issues and tactics I want to convey. When that happens, I have to twist the answers, giving brief acknowledgment to the question and then quickly moving on to what I want to say. It’s a verbal game.
But in this series, I don’t have to bother steering the answers away from the questions. My questions are in complete harmony with my answers. That makes me very happy — so let’s get started…
Question #7: In no-limit poker, should you usually bet big on the last round when you’re first to act and hold an unbeatable hand?
Often, betting big is a mistake.
In fact, it’s a mistake so costly that even world-class players cost themselves a lot of money annually by overbetting. Sure, sometimes when you’re against a liberal caller who’s naturally suspicious, the best decision is to make a huge bet or to move all-in.
But against aggressive opponents or frequent bluffers, you should either tease by making a suspiciously small wager or simply check. What you don’t want to do is average only a small extra profit on these final rounds of betting.
The risk of not winning anything at all is enhanced when make a large wager. Conservative or cautious opponents will usually fold.
Tricky and aggressive opponents will often bet for you, if you check. Even if they don’t bet — and you win nothing extra by simply winning in a showdown — it’s likely that you wouldn’t have gained anything by betting, either.
So, checking is often the best decision. Sometimes, it’s even better to make a small wager. An aggressive player may respond with a substantial raise, either with a strong hand or as a bluff. In either case, you can then answer with a large reraise.
When you hold a superior hand, being too aggressive on the final no-limit betting round when you act first is often a mistake. And it can be a costly one.
Question 8: What governing law determines the appropriate bet size in no-limit poker?
Some players advocate that you should move all-in whenever you have a substantial advantage. They even say that the practice makes no-limit less complex than limit. While moving all-in to press your advantage does, in fact, simplify the game, it isn’t the best way to structure your betting.
A simple concept is at work here: When you have an advantage, try to determine how large you should bet to give your opponent a “fair call.” What does that mean?
Well, there’s a mathematical point where it doesn’t matter, from your perspective (or from his, if he’s a perfect opponent), whether he calls or not. For instance, if you bet the size of the pot against a single opponent on the final round, he’ll profit by double the amount he risked by calling if he wins.
To make this discussion easier to understand, let’s throw out the complications arising from the possibility that your opponent will raise. Usually — unless you have an unbeatable hand or nearly so — the more often this opponent takes maximum advantage of small edges by raising, the less often and the less money you should wager.
Fine. Now let’s return to our simplified example to make a powerful point. If you correctly estimate that your opponent will win one in three times by calling and you bet the size of the pot, it doesn’t matter whether he calls or folds. In the long run, he’ll break exactly even either way. It’s a fair call, in your mind. He’ll win once in three times, giving you a 2-to-1 likelihood of winning the showdown.
To make it even clearer, with that 2-to-1 advantage you’re estimating on times you get called, if you bet $1,000 into a $1,000 pot, you’re offering an opponent $2,000 profit to call. He’ll realize that profit once in three times, but twice in those three calls, he’ll lose $1,000 for a loss of $2,000. You would be making a break-even wager, offering your opponent a fair call.
So, in that case, betting the size of the pot brings you no gain. But betting less than that “fair call” amount provides your opponent with a bargain.
You don’t want to do that, unless your opponent is the type who will erroneously fold too often against a small, teasing bet. Your goal is to earn money on all your bets in the long run, and you do that by choosing a bet in accordance with your opponent’s weaknesses.
If you can coax a little extra from this opponent by pricing your wager at $1,500, then he’ll call twice and lose for a total of $3,000 and he’ll win $2,500 once — the original $1,000 pot, plus your $1,500 bet. Now you’ve earned $500 for every three of these bets you make.
The trick is to estimate the fair price and then, if your opponent has a calling weakness, bet as much more as you can to exact maximum profit.
Note that against truly world-class players whose strategy is nearly perfect, you should price your wager at exactly the fair call amount. You don’t want to make your bet larger or smaller or they’ll take advantage. But against most flawed opponents, you should try to sell hands with an advantage for more than they’re worth.
Up to you
How much more than the “fair call” amount can you earn to maximize your profit? It’s up to you to decide, but you have to think about how high you can price your hand against that specific opponent for highest profit.
Suppose your opponent checks on the final betting round. Now it’s up to you to choose your bet size.
Maybe moving all-in will result in enough calls to make that the best choice. Often, a smaller amount will be right. You’d rather make more sales at a lower price, so long as the overall average profit is greater.
Just remember, when you have the best hand — and it warrants a wager — you need to price it right. That price must be at least the “fair call” value, and it should be more than that if your opponent can be lured into calling too much or too frequently.
Pricing a hand right is a key to profit. Routinely moving all-in to protect a hand and simplify the game isn’t correct.
Look for more questions and answers next time. — MC
This announcement was at the beginning of the entry above when published as a column in 2007.
It is included here for historical purposes.
On October 21st and 22nd, I’ll be emceeing the first annual California Poker Players Conference. The powerful two-day learning experience is offered by Hollywood Park Casino, under the stewardship of Phyllis Caro. George “the Engineer” Epstein and Robert “Chip Burner” Turner, both among 16 renowned instructors, have been instrumental in organizing the event.
If you visit www.2007cppc.com, a site created by Jay Aaron of Visionary Enterprises, you’ll learn more and hear my interviews with some of the all-star cast of superior experts and players, including: Lou Krieger, Jeffrey Pollack, Marsha Waggoner, Vince Burgio, Barbara Enright, Russell C. Fox, Tony Guerrera, Susie Isaacs, John Pappas, Charlie Shoten, and Stan Sludikoff. I’ll tell you a bit more next time.
Admission costs under $200, if you register early.