Do you really know why you’re betting?


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1992) in Card Player magazine.

Enhanced in 2014.


One especially profitable way to think about poker is to remind yourself there are only three types of actions you should take. There are assertive actions, defensive actions, and deceptive actions. That’s it.

I know, right now you’re thinking and thinking and it’s beginning to hurt. You’re trying to come up with an exception, but you can’t. You see, my friends, even the psychological warfare you engage in between hands, even that action, should fit into at least one of the big three categories.

Maybe suddenly you remember a play you made against your girlfriend Polly in 1960. You swear that it wasn’t assertive, defensive, or. deceptive. You made that play to save Polly money. It was an action of mercy.

You know what? You’re right. That action — declining to bet, let’s say — was motivated by a reason other than the big three. But you weren’t playing poker! I’m going to repeat this one more time. If you’re playing poker seriously, if you’re playing to win, there are only three categories that your actions fall into. Assertive, defensive, and deceptive. Nothing more.

How to destroy yourself assertively. Let’s talk about assertive actions. This is how many skillful poker players destroy their bankrolls. It’s just pitiful. An assertive action is usually a bet or a raise, but not all bets and raises are assertive.

You might bet after being checked to, hoping your opponent will check again on a later round. Perhaps you’re planning, then, to check and get a free card. Is that action assertive? No, it’s either defensive or deceptive or both.

Two reasons to be assertive. But when you feel a non-complicated urge to be assertive by betting or raising, ask yourself these two questions: (1) Am I trying to build a bigger pot? (2) Am I trying to make my chances of winning the pot more favorable.

If you’re not sure your assertive bet or raise is specifically for one of those two reasons, don’t make it. It’s just that simple. Sure, you can bet to establish an image for later profit — that’s deceptive. But when you’re not forced to push your image, when you’re not setting up a next-round play, then you’re being assertive.

I repeat, every assertive bet must be made either to build a bigger pot or to increase your chances of winning the pot. If you’re about to take an assertive action for some other reason — such as impressing your opponents or because it “feels like” the right time — don’t complete that bet. Monitor yourself, and if you’re betting or raising for the wrong reason, or you can’t think of a reason that fits into the two categories, don’t bet or raise.

You’ll be glad.  — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

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