Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2004.
This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at email@example.com.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 25: Betting right in no-limit hold ’em
So far, Mike has seldom mentioned no-limit hold ’em. You’re probably experiencing the same fascination with the game that I am, and most likely for the same reason. Watching the World Poker Tour week after week, virtually on the edge of my seat, I’ve tried to predict how the competitors will play their hands, particularly how much they will bet.
The excitement surrounding the betting is usually intense. Players can bet and get raised right out of their seats. Their hearts must be racing. A bet is always dangerous, since it can be raised without a limit.
All your profits
Having a great hand in no-limit and discovering that it’s second best can cost you all of your chips. So, how much should you bet when you have a strong hand? It became apparent to me that no-limit poker is a different adventure entirely, full of risks, on-the-edge decisions, and extreme disappointments that can make a huge difference in one’s bankroll.
Even though I haven’t played it yet, as I’m still in the learning process, I want to pass along something that Mike told me. You may be able to use it if you already play no-limit or plan to in the future.
I asked Mike a simply question. How do you know how much to bet when you have a hand you think will win? He answered, “You make an educated guess about how much and how often your opponent will call, whenever you believe you have the superior hand. There are other factors, as well,” he added, “such as how likely it is that your hand really is best, and how much it’s apt to cost you if it isn’t. But let’s assume you know for sure that you have the best hand on an early betting round. Some people advise you to bet all your chips in order to keep your opponent from making a hand that beats you. They say you should try to take the pot right then and be satisfied with the profit, rather than give your opponent a chance to beat you.”
Interesting theory, but wrong
Mike then told me that common advice is wrong. He pointed out something that I’ll always remember. “When you have the best hand,” he said, “you have something to sell. You want to sell it at the highest price you can get, but you don’t need to make every sale, as long as you make enough sales so that the overall profit is greater than it would be at any other price point. When you make a bet in no-limit poker, you’re setting the price. That price must not be so low that it gives your opponents a good deal. If you give your opponents a good deal, then they are making a profit when they call you. So in no-limit, the secret is to figure out what the maximum your opponent could reasonably pay and still get a fair deal. Then you want to bet as much above that fair price as possible, in accordance with you opponent’s likelihood of calling. Anything that an opponent will call above that break-even, fair price point is a profit for you.”
So, Mike explained the simple truth that governs no-limit betting when you have a superior hand. The amount you should bet is always at least the fair price and as much above it as you’re likely to get your opponent to call often enough to make the most long-range profit.
Sometimes that may mean moving all-in, as others advise, but often by doing that you’re over-pricing your product and it will end up costing you money. You want to give your opponents a chance to beat you, as long as they are paying dearly for that opportunity.
So, that is the main theory behind betting superior hands in no-limit poker. I was excited to learn that concept and eager to share it with you. — DM