Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
You should only bet if there is value in doing it. That seems obvious, but in the emotion of urgent decision-making in the quest of mountainous pots, we sometimes forget. We bet instinctively or irrationally.
We must stop. Well, actually, I mean you must stop, but I figured that by using the word “we” I would appear more humble and become more popular. Let me know if it worked.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was talking about betting. You don’t just do it without a reason. In fact, I teach: “No motive, no bet.” But there’s more to it than that. Did you know that sometimes you can bet with impunity? It’s a concept I’ve been teaching since before my earliest contributions to Doyle Brunson’s Super/System – A Course in Power Poker, was back in the 1970s. And it remains a primary factor when I teach winning poker decisions today.
To understand how it works, here’s a lecture I did five or so years ago. Listen…
Betting with impunity
One of the strongest and most profitable tips for serious poker players is that when the decision seems close about whether to bet, they should not simply decide based on whim or random instinct. They should find reasons to break the tie and make the right choice.
That’s why I spend so much time teaching students how to deal with borderline decisions. I define a borderline decision in poker as one when you’re not certain whether you should raise or just call, whether you should play the hand or not play it, whether to check or bet. Even professional players usually conclude that it’s not worth the effort trying to resolve these dilemmas. So, they decide at whim. They figure that since it doesn’t much matter in terms of overall profit whether they play a borderline hand or not, whether they bet it or not, that they’ll simply randomize in accordance with however inspiration strikes them at the moment. This impromptu randomization, they figure, will keep opponents off-guard.
And maybe it will. But I believe many borderline decisions can be resolved by considering more factors. By doing so, you can tilt the scales one way or the other and, because you’ve considered more information, the choice often is no longer borderline. You’ve broken the tie and found where the profit is.
Today I want to talk about one of the tie-breakers that I believe is the most profitable when your hand is borderline strong and you don’t know whether to bet or check. Here’s the tip: Whenever you can bet with impunity, it’s a much better bet than if your opponent might raise with hands that are stronger than yours.
My concept of betting with impunity is one of the most important ones I teach to serious poker players. Remember, in limit poker games if you bet for value on the last round and are raised, you’re going to usually call that raise, but lose most of the time. You call even though you’re usually going to lose because the rewards of winning the whole pot overwhelm the cost of calling the single raise – which is only a small fraction of the pot. But – listen closely – even though calling the final raise, in itself, may be profitable, because your opponent may occasionally be bluffing or overvaluing his hand, you will lose money by calling the raise by itself. In other words, you’ll lose most of the time on that final extra bet, your opponent’s raise, so you’d rather he didn’t raise at all.
Every time you can bet a borderline hand that might be barely strong enough to make a little extra money than you would make by checking, you’re faced with a near borderline situation. But if there’s a reduced chance that your opponent will raise – or almost no chance at all that he will – betting is much more profitable than if you had to fear that raise.
Look for situations
For that reason, you should look for situations to bet medium-strong hands when you don’t fear a raise. I call this betting with impunity. The situations will be clear to you as you gain playing experience and are able to get inside your opponent’s mind and see your hand the way he does. But here’s one example:
You can bet two pair for value whenever your opponent fears that you may have made a flush. Let’s say it’s seven-card stud and your opponent has a pair of kings showing. You suspect that’s all he probably has, and you’ve made a pair of fours on the final river card to go along with your pair of tens. On your board – your four exposed cards — you show three or four of the same suit. If your opponent checks, often you can now bet with impunity. Your opponent is unlikely to raise, even with three kings, because he fears the flush. You’ll have the best hand most of the time and be called by losing hands more often than by hands that beat you. And that’s good. It means your bet is profitable. But, if your opponent felt freer to raise, you’d sometimes have to pay twice as much when you’re beat, and that might make your marginal borderline value bet unprofitable.
So, tend to bet hands that are borderline if you can bet with compete or partial impunity. Otherwise, usually check those hands against aggressive opponents.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC