Why betting doesn’t always make sense

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (1993) in Card Player magazine.

When should you bet in poker? Someone could (and probably will someday) write a complete book on just that topic. Fortunately, there’s one easy principle you can use today.

Here’s that principle: In order for a bet to be your correct choice, the value of betting must be greater than the value of checking. That’s so important, I’m going to repeat it: You should only bet when, by doing so, you expect to earn more than you would by checking.

That’s obvious, right? Maybe. But few players bet effectively. Some bet for the wrong reasons—bets bolstered by pride, bluffs beyond hope. Remember, whenever you have the opportunity to bet, you also have the opportunity to check. One of those two strategies is always better, and it’s your job to determine which one it is.

The mistake players make. Most players are aware they shouldn’t bet if checking is better. They know it in their hearts, in their minds, and deep within their poker souls. So, their betting mistakes don’t bloom from ignorance.

What happens is this: Too many players simply forget to consider the benefits of checking in the heat of poker combat. They spend all their time considering the obvious factors indicating whether or not they should bet. How do I know this? Because often, in private, when I ask players to try defining their chain of thinking at the table, they tell me how they weight the value of betting against, essentially, a zero base. What does that mean? It means they think that if a bet has any dollar value beyond zero, then it’s the correct play. They forget to weigh the expected value of betting, once they’ve determined it’s greater than zero, against the value of checking.

What’s the value of checking? Always remember that checking has value. You might check a strong hand, hoping an opponent bets, so you can raise. Most players do weight both betting and checking in that one case—when they have a very, powerful hand. But in other cases, they don’t.

The biggest mistake is in risking a bet of marginal value, when a check might have marginal value, too. Checking can lure a bad bet from a naive opponent. Checking can sometimes let you see the next card for free. Checking can confuse a player about the strength of your hand. All these things have value.

So, I’m suggesting that, from now on, you should consciously stop before making a bet and estimate the value of checking. Then weigh that value against the value of betting. Only then, make your decision. — 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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