Why bet/raise? Why call?

by PokerAnon ~ February 25th, 2011. Filed under: Fold equity, aggression and bluffing, Micro level poker, Poker aggression, Poker theory.

Why do we bet, or raise, or call?

You are in the cutoff, one to the right of the dealer position. You are dealt AJ. Everyone folds to you. You raise. Why? Because you’re supposed to?

Say that you dutifully raise and the player in the big blind calls. The flop comes Q52 and the big blind checks. You bet. Why? Because you are supposed to? These will be my default actions in these situations 95% of the time, but there has to be more of a reason that just “because you’re supposed to”. What’s the story behind betting or raising?

Before you take any action, decide

  1. what you are doing,
  2. why you are doing this,
  3. what you hope will happen, and maybe even
  4. what you will do if something else happens, although experienced players may have this embedded subconsciously and may not need to think about this consciously until the situation arises.

Here are some reasons to bet or to raise:

  1. Bet for value; you likely have the best hand and want to get money from players who might call. This is the reason to bet against beginners. Preflop they will call with hands that you dominate, postflop will they call with low pairs when you have top pair or better. You might also bet hoping to get raised. Betting for thin value is when you have a hand but there are almost as many hands that are better than your hand as opposed to being worse.
  2. Bet as a bluff; you bet/raise to get a better hand to fold. Semibluffs are bluffs with hands that have draw equity.
  3. Raise for protection; you have a hand like 99 and the flop is all low but if a higher card comes you might be behind or find it more difficult to play the rest of the hand. You are trying to get players to give up what equity they have in the hand.
  4. Raise for position; if you are in the the blinds you may raise preflop to try to get the other players to fold. You are betting to try to avoid having to play out of position postflop. You also might raise from middle position to try to get the players in late position to fold for the same reason.
  5. Raise to isolate; trying to isolate a single bad player, or a short stack in a tournament, by raising to discourage the other players from playing.
  6. For image; you may bet/raise to set up value for future hands. This might include re-raising a blind stealer to slow him down, or frequently betting or raising to help you to get paid off when you have a big hand later.
  7. As a blocking bet; trying to get a player to call your bet rather than chose their own bet size. Can also apply if you raise a flop bet when you are in position. Raising a flop bet will often cause the other player to check the turn and gives you the chance to see both the turn and river for no extra cost.
  8. Pot building; I’m not sure this is entirely separate from betting for value except that the value is anticipated as coming later rather than right away. You’re not expecting players to fold in this situation. Probably more useful in limit poker.
  9. For information; this one was over/mis-used in the recent past, and like the previous one I think it came from the days when limit poker was king. It still gets used at beginner levels by players who min-bet the flop/min-bet the turn/pot-bet the river because if you only call his min-bets earlier you don’t have a good hand so he can bluff the river.

Often the reason for betting or raising will be a combination of more than one reason. I raise AJ for value because it’s a good hand and also for protection against garbage that the big blind might have. I bet the Q52 flop because it’s likely that I still have the best hand (value) and to fold hands like 67 that have equity against me (protection). I’m also setting up an image; if you call my raises, I will put pressure on you postflop and not let you get your hand to showdown for free. If  the blind calls the flop bet he will usually check the turn and I get to see the river card for free if I don’t bet the turn (blocking bet).

In some ways you can boil down the reasons for betting/raising to just the first two; betting for value or betting to get better hands to fold. If you ever get a poker coach that asks you why you ever make a bet, that’s what you say. Bet for value or to get better hands to fold. That’s the simple answer.

So why call rather than betting or raising?

  1. Call to keep the pot size smaller when you have a marginal hand. This could be on any street, including river calls or even preflop with suited connectors/small pairs against loose/passive competition.
  2. Call for deception; to encourage an aggressive opponent to continue to bet, otherwise known as slowplaying or “rope a dope”. Sometimes you can also confuse a good player who expects you to fold or raise.
  3. Call for information; to find out what the other player had, especially when calling a river bet or a short stack shove, or to see how they act on later streets.
  4. To set up later streets; similar to deception above but more useful against less maniacal and more experienced opponents. One version is to float the flop with the intention of betting the turn to try to take the pot away. Another version is to feign weakness by calling to “open up your opponent’s range”. For example by calling a flop bet and checking the turn you create the incentive for your opponent to bluff the river or to call your small river bet, whereas if you had raised the flop bet he may have folded.
  5. For implied odds; if an extremely tight player raises preflop and you have a small pair you call to set mine. Similarly if two players limp in ahead they are also giving you huge implied odds to set mine.
  6. You can’t fold because of the pot odds; you raise AK from middle position to 3 times the big blind and everyone folds except for the big blind who shoves his remaining 8 big blinds, or, the button shoves his remaining 3 big blinds and you hold two cards. Unless this is the bubble and you are also short you can’t fold either situation.
  7. To chase your draws; a big, big, overused reason for beginners. The draw might be to pair your other hole card or to turn your paired flop card into trips. Better used in conjunction with other plans, like to bet/raise a later street to take the pot away, or calling for information, etc. Can be more valid if the implied odds are good because you are both playing deep.
  8. Calling because you cannot raise happens when you are short and have less than the raise in front of you, or someone else with few chips than you goes all in, or someone after you shoves but has less than the required minimum for a legal raise. For example, the blinds are 50/100, you raise to 300 and are called by the small blind. The two of you have lots more chips but the big blind shoves his last 400 chips making it 100 more to you. Because the big blind did not officially raise because he didn’t have enough chips, all that you and the other player can do is to call the additional amount and neither of you can raise again until the next street.

Here are some reasons not to call:

  • As I’ve written elsewhere; calling because you’re afraid to raise and too undisciplined to fold is not a valid reason to call. You’ve got to push your comfort zone and experience level and be able to make raises for the right reasons, and at the same time be able to discipline yourself to fold when there’s no good reason for you to put out (more) money.
  • Calling preflop with the vague idea of “seeing what the flop brings” is also not valid. Sometimes good players will call for information but they really do know what they are looking for in terms of information, plus they have one or sometimes more plans in mind depending on the following card(s) and action.
  • Don’t call just because you think your opponent is bluffing. To call his bluff you need to have a hand that’s better than what he’s bluffing with, or have a plan to bet/raise a later street to take the pot away, or have a need to confirm that he’s capable of bluffing in these type of situations. Don’t call with no plan or purpose when you hold a hand that’s probably worse than his bluffing hand.
  • Don’t call against pot odds or without sufficient implied odds. For example don’t call with small pairs when the player has less than 20 times the size of the bet because you don’t have implied odds. Don’t call with small pairs against a controlled loose-aggressive player who has a wide range of hands and won’t pay you off if you hit your set. Don’t chase your flush draws or straight draws against opponents who don’t have enough chips or won’t pay you off if you hit, especially if they give you insufficient pot odds.
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