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Betting for Balance

Just a few days after stating that poker strategy posts were difficult since flexibility is king (or should I say, flexibility is aces), I come up with a brief strategy point. Go figure.

I was reading Recess Rampages' recent posts about a hand where he played KK in a multi-way pot, and it got the old poker juices flowing. In the hand, played at a 1/2 NLHE online full table, he ended up seeing a J98 rainbow flop, 5-handed after raising the flop to $9, in MP (2 players to act before him and 2 after). It was checked to him and he posted the question, what would you do? My answer was to bet $30-35 to get information.

In his next post, RR made the correct statement that gaining information should never be the sole reason to make a bet. I agree. But then again, how can any bet be solely to gain information?! Surely, gaining information is a side effect of many bets, but a raise alone cannot be solely about information. If you think your opponent doesn't have it, and you "raise for information" it's a bluff, where you are actually seeking confirmation (i.e., information) regarding whether your read is correct. Likewise, when you are betting to "gain information" in a hand that you think you are likely good, but willing to fold to a raise, it is an inherent value bet. After all, you are betting to get more money into the pot while you are ahead AND part of that bet is to confirm (through information) that your read is correct.

Which brings us to the next point. RR suggests that a bet should be either a value bet or a bluff. Now, RR probably could out-theorize me about poker easily, so this is not a knock on his posts, play, beliefs or understanding of the game. It's just another view point. And here it is: in an ideal world, you don't bet to bluff OR value bet when you have a hand like KK in that spot. You bet for equilibrium. You bet so that it is a bluff to those hands who have a good chance of catching up, it's a value bet to those hands that are strong but weaker than the KK, and its a probe bet to those hands that are so strong, they'll raise. A bet can be everything at once, provided that it is sized right.

In a perfect world, every bet will do a few things. It will serve to protect your hand from lesser hands who may draw out. It will get called (as a value bet) by inferior hands who are not likely to catch up. It will push out some hands that already are ahead. It will induce action and therefore information from superior hands, to allow you to fold your non-nut hand.

It may not be possible to do this in every hand. If you have nothing, then usually, your bet can only be a bluff, but this isn't even 100% true. Take, for instance, a hand where you have 32o in the BB, flop a bottom pair against the SB, and then the min bet the turn (after the flop is checked), get a call, and then check the river, only to learn that your turn bet was a value bet against an unimproved AQ. Not likely, you say? It happened to me last night.

So, was I bluffing or betting for value? I was doing BOTH, and seeking information by the bet. I bet low enough that some unimproved Ace-high hands would call, but I would have also been happy to push out my opponent with the weak bet. I don't remember the board, but maybe my min bet could got a better 3 to fold, like K3.

Plainly put, it just isn't black and white. A good bet will be gray. It will induce calls from inferior hands like the unimproved AQ, and push out players with superior hands. And hopefully, for the trifecta, when your opponent has a hand that is vastly superior or strong enough that he will not fold to your gray-area bet, he will indicate his strength with a raise.

The key then, isn't to ask yourself whether you are betting to bluff or for value. Rather, the key is to find that bet that is both.

A quick caveat. As much as the goal is to reach that balance with a nice gray-area bet, this cannot always be done. There are times when a bluff needs to be a pure bluff, and other times when a value bet is merely a value bet. But those moments are usually fairly clear. It's those odd times, like when you are facing 4 opponents and a fairly coordinated flop with KK in mid position that a gray-area bet will work the best. Because after all, you want value for your hand, but you don't want to give away free cards.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 2:22 PM,


At 9:14 PM, Blogger BWoP said...

Very interesting concept!

(Those smarty pants lawyers . . .)

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

In your first example about betting where you are trying to bet off someone who is chasing with a draw to catch you, that's actually betting for value. In other words, if you bet and he is not getting the right price, then despite the end result, you are in fact betting for value to induce a mistake (call) from him.

I agree that in a multiway, your bet would be either. But heads up (which was not my example) it is always important to keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish. In my post, the only thing was that so many people bet out "just to see where they are at" and that is terrible. Finding out where you are is an end result, not a means to a bet.

Good post though.

At 2:26 PM, Blogger GPO said...

I think in the KK example there is no right or wrong answer as to what to do. It really depends on who you are playing and what are the stacks.
You could argue not to bet to try to keep the pot small or bet and drive anyone holding a draw out of the pot.
My first thought is how big are the ranges of the players calling the PF raise. That board is highly coordinated for a straight hit already or two pair. Even top pair and OE str8 draw.
My goal PF with KK or AA is to try to get 2 or less opponents. That did not happen so it really becomes one pair on an ugly board.

But like I said it depends on who you are playing with. I have been watching PAD cash game for 9 episodes now. Dwan does a great job managing the pot and who he is playing against. He rarely clashes with Kenny Tran, but will call or raise Safai all day long. He knows who he can outplay post flop.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Todd said...

You forgot one key reason for betting: it creates a story in the opponents head. Assuming you're playing against decent players capable of 3rd level thought ("what my opponent thinks I have"), a bet can LOOK like a value bet or LOOK like a probing bet or LOOK like a bluff while you have the nuts.

It isn't about what you think, it's about what you want your opponent to think about what you think he's thinking...

I think.


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