Poker habits are almost universally bad. That is not a consequence of the habits themselves, but of the fact that “default” and “auto-pilot” plays are intrinsically self-defeating. On the felt, we compete to exploit razor-thin margins in a potently dynamic game, and success demands unwavering attention to detail.
One of the worst standards to ever befall the world of no-limit poker concerns bet sizing. Around 2006, it became pointedly uncommon for players to bet anything outside the range of 60 percent to 80 percent of the pot. For nearly a decade, professional players everywhere seemed to forget that no-limit games allow for bets of any size to be made at any time. This lack of flexibility undoubtedly cost many professionals a great deal of money.
I was recently reminded of how crucial it is to maintain elasticity in one’s bet-sizing strategy.
In a $5-$10 no-limit hold ’em game, action had been passive and uneventful for a couple of hours. In one hand, two players limped in for $10 each, I called from the cutoff position with 4d 3d, and action folded to the big blind, who checked his option.
The flop brought Ad Qc 3s, and everyone checked to me. Though I could make a case for betting in this situation against certain opponents, I opted to check, knowing these players to be tricky enough to show up with a variety of slow-played hands.
The Ks rolled over on the turn, and again the action checked to me. My feeling was roughly the same as it had been on the flop: These guys could have real hands despite their passivity thus far. I checked again, and the four of us saw the 3c come down on the river.
When my opponents all checked for the third time, I found myself with multiple options.
First, I could bet a “typical” amount – somewhere from about one-half to three-quarters of the pot, or about $30 in this case. Surely anyone with a remotely playable hand would call, just to keep me honest. I could also bet the minimum, $10, to encourage calls from even more hands, such as a pocket pair of deuces or even jack-high. It might be the case that a $10 bet would be called so much more often that it would win out over a $30 bet in long-term profitability.
However, a third option was to overbet the pot, hoping to be called by the same hands that would call $30 anyway. Conditions were perfect: My opponents could have stronger hands than they were representing, board pairs were high, and a hand like A-5 would anticipate an occasional chop against a counterfeited hand like A-J.
So, I bet $140, more than triple the pot.
The first limper called while the others folded, confusedly showing A-7 when he did not register that I had tabled trips. This was a substantial bonus for me in comparison to a more standard default bet, and I was reminded of a timeless poker adage: “Never leave money on the table.”
Corwin Cole is a poker coach whose instructional videos can be found at CardRunners.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.