Brunson: Keep betting until they fold


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.


Doyle Brunson

“There’s no great secret to this game, son. You just keep betting ‘til they fold.” I don’t remember who said that. It was too many years ago. Too many games ago. Too many dust storms ago that seemed to come from nowhere as I drove the narrow Texas highways in the sixties, with miles of emptiness between games.

No, I don’t remember who said it, but it got glued inside my head. Of course, it’s not good advice for all situations. It’s important that you recognize when it’s correct to just keep betting.

What we’re talking about today seems almost opposite of last week. There are many ways to exploit poker. To an untrained player, folding, calling, or raising are mystical choices and it’s often a struggle deciding. But world- class players know that these are just like clubs in your golf bag. One is right.

Thinking back

Last week I taught you something that ran contrary to my philosophy of hard, super-aggressive, power poker. It even ran contrary to my very nature. I told you that when an opponent was in the process of betting and raising too often, you shouldn’t fight back. Play passively. Check and call a lot – something I usually find distasteful. Let that player tie his own noose and then hang himself.

Just sit and watch, and stack the chips. Your opponent is making a mistake by betting and raising more than is advisable. Whenever an opponent is making a mistake, there’s a way to take advantage of it. And that way, in that case, is to simply feign meekness and call. Don’t meet the challenge with aggression, threatening to take their money; just meekly and quietly take it. It’s yours.

Now, that was last week’s lesson. Today, I’m going to show you when to capitalize by betting and raising to your heart’s content.

Pound and keep pounding

Obviously, the time to pound and keep pounding is against players who fold too often. But here’s what isn’t so obvious: Among the group of players who fold too often are some of the premiere players of today. Some may be all-stars in your local games. These players flat out make money. They’re winners. Winners who are terribly vulnerable if you don’t lose your nerve!

Here’s the secret. Some of the most astute players in the world think themselves right out of pots. If you’re in a limit game, where the bet sizes are established in advance, they’re apt to take pride in laying hands down. In their minds, that’s what separates them from the average players. And they’re right. They are able to beat most players just by controlling their urges to play hands, by staying calm, and by making reasoned laydowns.

But most of these players outthink themselves! They don’t correctly factor in the chances of making a wrong laydown when they have many opportunities to make the mistake.

Let’s say you’re playing seven-card stud and you’re against one such astute opponent – an opponent who earns a living playing more sensibly (and conservatively) than most of the players he encounters.

Mental anguish

Let’s say, also, that you’ve put him on a medium hand and that you know – unless his prospects change favorably as the next face-up cards unfold prior to each betting round – that he’s going to go through mental anguish every decision. He’s usually grudgingly going to call if you bet. But that’s the key word: usually. Just to make it simple, let’s say you need him to fold in order to win and the fourth card has just been dealt. That means there are four more betting rounds.

Let’s also say that he’s always going to call three out of four times. Now, faced with a situation like that against an opponent known to be a winner, most players are not going to barge out there with weak hands, hoping to steal a pot. But that’s where they’re wrong. This is precisely the situation to be wagering – whether you’re first to act or are following a check.

The secret is mathematical. If you want an opponent to fold, but that opponent is going to call three out of four times, that’s 75 percent of the time that you’re disappointed. But, that’s disappointment you can deal with. Remember, you have four chances for this player to make the laydown. The calculation goes like this: 75 percent of the time you’ll still be competing after the second betting round; it’s 56 percent you’ll still have an opponent challenging you after the third betting round. Calculate it to the showdown and there’s only a 32 percent chance that the player I’ve just described will call through the final bet. You’ll win 68 percent of the time without a fight! And along the way, you’ll sometimes stumble into the best hand.

Put it all together and it’s easy to see why you can bet and bet again into players who outthink themselves. They may not fold right now, but given enough chances, they’ll make that mistake. That’s when those ancient words make sense: “Keep betting until they fold.”  — DB

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