Reasons to Bet


Most of the strategies below have been discussed in greater detail in their own COTW threads. This is therefore designed as a guide for the lesser experienced players as to the different reasons as to why we bet, and not an in depth guide to how to play specific situations.

Why do we bet?

Every single action we make while we are playing should have a sound logical reason to back it up, as well as a plan for any subsequent action.

A big mistake I see in many of the hands posted on the forum is where people make a bet with no logical reason or plan of action, and many of the tricky spots could be avoided if some logical reasoning were applied to earlier decisions.

Fully understanding the reasons behind making bets will in turn lead to better decision making and a clearer though process.

There are several reasons to make a bet, but the first two reasons are fundamental to a good strategy and should be fully grasped before moving on to betting for more advanced reasons.

The two golden reasons to bet:

Value: To make worse hands call Bluff: To make better hands fold

A successful bet for either of these reasons will result in a profit. A losing bet is one where only better hands will call you and only worse hands will fold, resulting in you gaining nothing while ahead and losing while behind.

Before deciding which of these main reasons you are betting for, you should first take a little time to think about several things:

1) What hands will call me if I bet?
2) What hands will fold if I bet?
3) If I make a bet, how will I respond to a raise?
4) If my bet gets called, what is my plan for the next street?

And as you start to play against more sophisticated opponents:

5) What does my bet represent to Villain based on my image? 6) How is Villain likely to respond to my bet, given my image, his image, the board texture and recent history?

Value Betting:

In very basic terms, a value bet is one that is going to be called by hands that you beat. However, value bets range from fat value to thin value, and a value bet doesn’t have to be called exclusively by hands that you beat to make it a value bet. Sometimes Villains range for calling includes both hands that you beat, and hands that beat you, but if you are ahead more often than not, then it qualifies as a value bet.

See more about value betting here – COTW on Value Betting and here COTW on thin value

Leak 1:

One of the major leaks in beginning uNL players is not value betting frequently enough and not betting heavy enough. Calling ranges of players at the micros should not be underestimated. Many are only playing their own hands and are not putting you on a range and even when it is completely obvious that they are beaten, they just cannot lay down their pretty looking hand.


A bluff is a bet that folds out hands that are ahead of yours. You would use a bluff when you know that your hand has very little, or zero, chance of winning at showdown. You must be aware of a couple of things when bluffing…

1) You must be confident that your opponent is capable of laying down his hand.
2) You are telling a convincing story with your bets, and are able to convincingly represent a legitimate hand.

Bluffs are not as important at the micros as value-betting, and while you could probably sustain a positive winrate at 50NL and below by purely value-betting and never bluffing, it is a good skill to have in your arsenal, and essential if you want to break into small stakes.


A semi-bluff is similar to a standard bluff, however it is much more useful in marginal situations and against better opponents. Semi-bluffing is making a bet with a hand that is almost definitely losing at the moment, but has outs to improve to the best hand. A good semi-bluff is a double edged sword as you often take the pot down by making your opponent fold the best hand, yet when you are called, you are often playing against the top of their range and are likely to win their stack when you hit.

See more about bluffing here – COTW on bluffing and here – Improving your red line

Leak 2:

The second major leak that beginning uNL players have is that they bluff too often and (as leak 1) they underestimate their opponents calling range. Bluffing at the micros should be used sparingly, and only in well thought out situations, against the right opponents.

How do we decide why we are betting?

You should always keep in mind the Fundamental Theorem Of Poker as quoted by Sklansky….

“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

To put this more simply….

If you are ahead of your opponent, and you think he will put more money in the pot, then you must make a value-bet. If you are behind and have no realistic chance of outdrawing your opponent, and you think he can fold his hand, then you should bluff.

Of course it’s not that easy because of the one main difference that poker has compared to other games. We never know our opponents holdings with 100% accuracy, and this is where the skill of hand-reading and ranging becomes important. You need to apply the above guidelines to your opponents range as a whole and choose your reason for betting (or other action) on that range. This leads to what I call range-targeting.


While playing a hand, you should always have in your mind an idea of a range for your opponent. Unless you are holding the nuts, then parts of your opponents range will be ahead of you and parts will be behind you. Based on where your own hand fits into your opponents range, you can choose your reason to bet, and target the appropriate part of their range with your betsizing. Let’s look at a few examples….

Our opponent in these hands is running at 24/10 with a fold to cbet of 80% (ie he folds unless he flops TP+). We have noticed that when he does flop TP+, he has trouble laying it down to aggression and will call pot sized bets.

Poker Stars $0.05/$0.10 No Limit Hold’em – 7 players
The Official 2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked. com

SB: $10.35
BB: $2.55
UTG: $14.35 UTG+1: $13.60 MP: $10.90
Hero (CO): $9.75
BTN: $19.60

Here we have flopped absolutely nothing. If we put him on a range of AJ+/22+ and a bunch of suited connector type hands, then we can see that on this flop he will likely fold pretty much all of that range apart from 33 and Ax. Because we have no sd value with our hand, we want to bet out here and pick the pot up (it will be a bluff most of the time as we will not be ahead of anything in Villains range very often). We now need to use our betsizing to target the part of Villains range that we want to fold (ie the air and lower pairs). If we think that he will fold this part of the range to a 1⁄2 pot bet, then that is all we need to bet and any more is unnecessary and will just result in us losing more money when he has hit. We are minimising our losses when behind, whilst not reducing the success ratio of the bet.

Poker Stars $0.05/$0.10 No Limit Hold’em – 7 players
The Official 2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked. com

SB: $10.35
BB: $2.55
UTG: $14.35 UTG+1: $13.60 MP: $10.90
Hero (CO): $9.75
BTN: $19.60


In this hand, it is the same flop, but we have flopped a monster. Here we have the effective nuts (he would have likely 3bet AA/ KK) so we want to extract as much value as possible. Again we need to target the part of his range that we want to play against, which is the opposite end of the range that we targeted in the last example. We are not interested in the low pps and the other hands that have completely missed the flop as they will likely be folding to any bet we make. In this hand we want to target the Ax part of his range that, according to our range, will pay us off well. This time a bet of 1⁄2 pot will be losing lots of value, because he will call at least double that. We are maximising our wins when Villain has hit, whilst not losing any value against the hands that wouldn’t call us anyway.

These are two very simplified examples of range targeting, but you can apply the concepts to any hand by putting your opponent on a range, choosing the part of that range that you want to play against and adjusting your betsizes accordingly. This is a very successful technique that works well at the micros against unobservant, however you need to be aware that as you move up, your opponents will start to pay more attention to your betsizing and you need to adjust your play accordingly.

Reasons not to bet:

As already stated, a losing bet would be one where only better hands can call and worse hands will fold.

Another bad reason for betting is quite common among beginning players, and that is the “bet for information” or “to see where I’m at”, when you have a marginal hand. This kind of bet usually falls into the losing bet category, as worse hands will fold and better hands will raise or call. The following is an example of betting for information. We raise our top pair to “find out where we are” and find exactly where we are by folding out hands that were obviously worse than ours.

Poker Stars $0.10/$0.25 No Limit Hold’em – 8 players

The Official 2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked. com

UTG+1: $15.00 MP1: $5.50
MP2: $12.35
CO: $8.00
BTN: $23.80
SB: $22.05
Hero (BB): $31.75 UTG: $4.25

UTG+1 posts a big blind ($0.25) CO posts a big blind ($0.25)

The information you get from betting in situations like this is usually completely redundant, as you will usually get one of two outcomes. The first is that your opponent folds and the information you got was that you were ahead, resulting in lost value. The second is that your opponent raises, and the information you get is that you were likely behind and have to fold.

Other reasons to bet:

As well as the main two reasons to bet, you will sometimes find yourself in situations where you may need to bet for a different reason, or your bet will accomplish two things at the same time. Most bets that go under a different name to “value” or “bluff” are often just variations.


An isolation bet is a bet used to narrow the field down, usually to try to get the pot heads-up with an inferior opponent. The most common reason you would use an isolation bet is as a value bet to isolate a bad player.

Poker Stars $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold’em – 9 players
The Official 2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked. com

UTG+2: $43.35 MP1: $10.00
MP2: $50.00
CO: $94.35
BTN: $69.25
SB: $17.25
Hero (BB): $60.50
UTG: $21.15 UTG+1: $16.75

In this example, the original raiser has shown himself to be an aggrodonk and the two callers are good solid regs. Where you would often flat an early position raise with JJ, this is a good spot to 3bet to isolate the fish and drive the two regs out of the pot. This is of course a bet for value as well as isolation because the fish will often continue with a much wider range than your JJ, and you have the advantage of taking them to the flop heads-up.

See more about isolation bets here – COTW on Isolating limpers


On certain boards you will need to bet to protect your hand from draws. Again this falls into value-bet territory as you will often have the best hand and you want to charge your opponent to make his draw rather than giving free cards. A big leak that a lot of micro players have is allowing their opponents to draw too cheaply because they’re worried about scaring them away. This is usually a case of underestimating how much people will pay to draw, which at the micro levels will often be much higher than you would imagine. People do not like to fold if they might hit the nuts on the next street, so make sure you charge them accordingly.

As well as protecting from draws, it is sometimes necessary to protect yourself from being bluffed off a hand.

Villain in this hand is a tricky 18/14 reg, with a 65% fold to 3bet.

Poker Stars $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold’em – 9 players
The Official 2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked. com

BTN: $28.85

Hero (SB): $82.80

BB: $52.85 UTG: $50.25 UTG+1: $20.55 UTG+2: $15.55 MP1: $49.15 MP2: $51.30 CO: $50.00

In this example, while you are not expecting to get called by worse, and you are not expecting to fold out better by betting, it is still a spot where you should often be betting (obviously Villain dependent) as checking will give your opponent a good opportunity to both bluff and value bet you, so betting to take the hand down straight away is not a bad result in this situation.

Blocking bet:

A blocking bet is a variation on betting to protect from bluffs. It is often used on the turn or the river to set your own price to see the next street or a showdown and is usually a small bet (1⁄2 pot or less). The blocking bet can be a useful tool when you think you might have the best hand, but you don’t want to be forced into calling a decent sized bet and you think that the chance of being raised is small.

See more about blocking bets here COTW on blocking bets


As you start to play more sophisticated opponents who are hand-ranging you and reading into your betting patterns, it is often necessary to balance your range. What this means is that you take the same line with different strength hands to help disguise your holdings.

A good example of this is a problem that a lot of people have around 50nl. They find that their flopped sets stop getting paid off by decent players and this is because when they raise the flop or the turn it is almost exclusively with sets and they become very easy to read. A good counter to this is to start raising more flops, either as bluffs or more usually as semi- bluffs, which has the double advantage of helping to get paid off more often when you do hit (people are more likely to stack off if they see you raising a disproportionate amount of flops) and also helps you take down lots of smaller pots by exploiting their tendency to fold.


Always have a reason behind every bet you make.

Bet to make worse hands call and better hands fold. There are often additional reasons as to why you are betting, but your bet will still usually fall into the catagory of “value” or “bluff”.

Value bet more. Bluff less.

Only bet for any other reason if you are confident in your reasoning.

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