Using Betting to Gather Information

Using Betting to Gather Information
By Aaron Hendrix

One of the biggest mistakes a person can make in a no limit hold em tournament is to check/call. I see player after player doing it and it is a fundamental error. I know that I'm still guilty of doing it from time to time and have to remind myself how wrong it is after the poker tournament when I am reviewing my play.

Why is it wrong? Well, because it is your bet or raise that defines your opponent’s hand. If you just check and call, then you really have no idea what your foe has. He could be on a draw. She could have middle pair. He could have the nuts. She could be on a stone cold bluff.

Unless you bet, you just don't know. Betting and raising also has the additional benefit of letting you win the pot by causing your opponent to fold. When you check and call, you not only eliminate that, but you also build up the size of the pot and make it correct for him/her to bet you out of the pot by applying pressure to you on the next street. There is also one additional benefit to betting/raising (especially when you have position) - if you are called, you will generally be checked to on the next street and if you yourself are drawing, you will be able to take a free card (or if you have a strong but not great hand, you can check and call a bet on the river, while you would not have been able to call a check raise on the turn).

Try it. Say you flop middle pair out of the big blind against one player who limped in middle position. Bet it out. If you check, you know he's going to bet. What do you do then? Fold, call or raise? If you bet out, he'll either fold because the flop missed him (more times than not), call because he is drawing (either to two over cards he holds in his hand or a flush/straight draw) or raise because she believes she has the best hand.

If you just check and call then you have no idea whether she has top pair or not. She could be holding nothing better than a pair of 2's but because you are checking and calling, you're eventually going to fold to her bets because of the uncertainty you have created (and generally speaking it would be correct for your foe to continue betting unless she knew you were the type of player who was a calling station).

Let's look at a hand as an example:

The blinds are 150/300 with a 50 ante. Player X has 32,000 in chips. Player Y has 6,000 in chips and is in the small blind. Our hero has 28,000 in chips and is dealt pocket queens. The hero opens for 900 and both Player X and Y call. The flop comes 9-4-4 with two spades. Player Y leads out for 500. Our hero makes it 2,000 to go. Player X makes it 10,000 to go and is instantly called by Player Y. The hero folds. Player X shows pocket aces and Player Y shows pocket kings.

Because the hero did not just call the flop bet, they were able to better define their opponent's hand. Raising let's them see if their opponent is on a flush draw, or had a bigger hand (for example, a flopped full house or over pair bigger than queens). When the hand is re-raised and called by the original bettor before it gets back to the hero, they can safely deduce that they are behind and make the tough but correct lay down. If they had, however, just called the initial bet, they wouldn't have gotten the same kind of information. If Player X had raised then, the hero wouldn't have known for sure whether they were doing it with a hand like pocket jacks or tens. However, with a bet and a raise, it is usually pretty safe to assume that Player X is going to have a very big hand to be putting in a 2nd raise, especially since the Hero can put a big dent in their stack. The raise allowed us to define Player X's hand and avoid getting eliminated from the poker tournament.

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