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January 26, 2006

Betting, Reading, Buying, And Selling

Posted at January 26, 2006 04:27 AM in Poker Strategy , by Sack.

So a little while back I bought a car. After well over a year of not being mobile without some form of assistance I was finally able to make a transaction which would give me that sweet privilege I’ve missed for quite some time now. All in all I got a great deal and have absolutely no complaints about it at all. It was simple, I was a buyer in need of a certain something. I had a friend looking to get rid of a vehicle she no longer needed. We came to an agreement and the rest is academic.

What does this have to do with poker at all? A lot (beyond the fact that poker helped pay for the thing in the first place, I mean). It was her car, and by all rights she is able to sell it at a price she sees fit. As the buyer I can choose to either pay this price or let it go. Had she thrown out a price that was astronomically higher than what the vehicle was worth then I easily could have walked away and continued my search. Had she thrown out a dollar amount that was insanely low I’d be quite curious, but also very cautious about why I’d be getting such a steal. Both these cases (as well as the exact opposite) can easily translate into the most important part of no limit poker… betting.

When you are betting out, in a way you are selling your hand to others. Each time you bet first or raise another bet, your goal is to either get called ( gain a buyer ), or to force a fold (send them running to the hills). One of the most common mistakes I see many newer players make is over-betting or overvaluing their hands. Probably a result of watching too much final table action on TV, but that’s another topic entirely.

For example: All players fold to the button who limps into the pot. Small blind calls and big blind check. After the flop the blinds check back to the button who then bets 4-5X the pot size, or even pushes all-in (as is the case quite often). Then one of two things are going to happen. Either both will fold, or someone will play back. In the event of folding then the button has basically only stolen the blinds, which he likely could have done pre-flop with a standard raise anyway. If the button did in fact have a monster, then he tried to sell his hand for way too much and didn’t get full value for his monster hand. The other option is that someone will have him beat and take most or all of his chips. Whereas he could have simply bet half the pot to a pot sized bet, and had a better idea of where he is at. If he’s beat he can now begin to figure that out and get away from the hand with very little damage. If in fact he does hold a monster that less scary bet is more likely to reel in some action from a marginal hand.

It’s kind of cliché to say, but betting tells a story. Since many of us do most of our playing online, betting patterns are the only tell we really have to go on. Recognizing the types of players around us and knowing their betting patterns can pay off big time. A good example of this was a tournament I just got done with. The guy to my left I had tagged as a semi-loose aggressive type, but he was pretty good at picking his spots. I watched as he built up a good stack rarely ever having to show down hands, but when he did show down he usually had good cards. What I noticed was that every hand he didn’t show down he’d limp or min-raise pre flop, bet the pot on the flop and turn, and then about two to four times the pot on the river. He only did then when other showed weakness and he was the aggressor. When he would show down a strong hand, his pattern was always a minimum to half pot sized bet the whole way until the river, and he was getting paid off regularly. So as usual I was biding my time and chugging along until about the final four or so. Since I knew his pattern and he was to my left, I knew I could get isolated with him a lot and use him to gain my chips. Without fail his pattern stayed the same, so anytime I got isolated with him I’d check-raise and force a fold when he bet the pot on the flop. If I had anything at all I’d call down and then raise big on the river and get paid off. When he bet less I’d get out of the way. The cards never actually mattered in this case. I could have ridden him all the way to first if not for one hiccup along the way. We were the blinds one hand with me holding J-9 and the flop came down 9-5-5. I went ahead and bet out (which is usually the right move, but since his betting told what he had, I really should have checked). He just called. The turn brought a third 5. This time I check to see what he’d do. He bet half the pot. Now I just knew he had to have quads. I decided to go ahead and pay him off anyway, and sure enough he did. The good part was I got the showdown pretty cheap and only lost a portion of my chips, where normally I’d have been broke on this hand. But my read was correct… unfortunately I’m a glutton for punishment and will pay to see quads many times. The next hand he took out another guy and when we got heads up he had about a 7-1 chip lead on me. With more time I know I could have likely beaten him, but I was forced to move in with A-J when he caught A-K and I was gone. But the point is that I got through and made money based simply on recognizing one players patterns and style. Regardless of the cards or the other players, I knew I could use him to my advantage.

When you’re deciding what to do when someone else bets out, try and put it all together and see what the story says. See if things make sense. Say you’re seated with a very loose-aggressive player that has raised almost every hand he’s played. Without fail he bets the flop every time. Suddenly one hand he just limps in and after the flop comes he simply checks. Alarms should be going off that he probably has a big hand. If you ARE that aggressive person and have a big hand, play it the same way as you did the others because that’s what’s expected. Suddenly slowing down will raise some eyebrows from good players.

Watch for big bets that don’t add up. So often you’ll see people that play a lot of suited connectors chase their draw only to miss. They may suddenly bet big on the river because they know that’s the only way to win (quote the TV show they watched “he realizes that betting is the only way he can win this pot, Lon”). Catch these players and you can win some nice pots with even marginal hands sometimes. Be careful with this one --make sure you can afford to be wrong and make sure your read is pretty solid. But with some practice you’ll see your bankroll increase very nicely.

The converse of this can be true also though. Watch for weaker players that know just enough to be scared. Such as when you raise with QQ and get a caller. Of course the flop brings out an ace or a king. You’re probably behind, but not dead. Especially if it brings a flush draw out there. Don’t get carried away with it, but you can still use some weak-aggression to your advantage. If he bets out and it’s worth it to call you can take a chance and put some more chips in. You may get lucky and catch that queen, but also a third card of that suit may hit. Lucky for you your simply calling the flop may have sold your hand as a possible flush draw. You may now be able to take down the pot with a bet or a check-raise. Again be careful with it, make sure you’re not playing somebody who won’t ever lay down top pair. But if you have the read, use it for all it’s worth.

Basically know you’re buyers and seller. Know what you’re hand is worth-- or more importantly know what they THINK your hand is worth. Use your reads, trust your gut, make as many good decisions as you can, and stay off the sidewalk cuz I’m on the road again!


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