Bet, Raise, or Fold
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In every poker hand you enter you are faced with several choices on each betting round. These choices or options, if you will, are crucial, and will ultimately decide your fate for the day. If your most common poker ploy is checking and calling then it is time for you to immediately change that, for you cannot win on a consistent basis by playing this style. "Calling stations", as they are referred to are weak players. Calling a bet at any time after the flop and turn card is just simply bad strategy and will, for the most part, get you into nothing but trouble. If you have a fear of getting raised after you bet then you are most certainly in the wrong business. Be aggressive.
Calling before the flop and after the river card is acceptable, calling a bet after the flop and the turn card is not. Your options after the flop and turn card should be to bet, raise or fold. The only exception to this rule is if you are on a flush or straight draw or if you flopped the absolute cold stone nuts. Those are absolutely the only exceptions to this rule. When I say the absolute cold stone nuts, I'm not referring to a straight or a small flush, I'm referring to the nut flush or a full house. Slow playing hands is bad strategy, period. Low limit hold'em (15-30 or smaller) provides too many opportunities for your opponents to catch up or outdraw you and providing them this opportunity, over the long run, is suicidal.
Never just call after the flop. Suppose you have Q-J and the flop is A-Q-3. The flop is bet and now it is up to you to decide what to do. Folding is correct, raising is correct, calling is incorrect. By raising you accomplish a number of positive results. First, you eliminate players that are on draws that could beat you. Players that are on inside draws will likely fold for fear of a re-raise by the original bettor. A player who may be on Q-K or Q-anything will in all likelihood fold. Most players are unlikely to put in two bets after the flop on inside draws or a low pair. Get rid of these players. By just calling this flop, you allow those players to "peel" the turn card. By raising, you eliminate any player that is thinking of drawing to a back door flush. By raising, you get information that is needed to continue. If another player raises your bet, and the original better calls, you can be damn sure that one, if not both of these two players are ahead of you and you can now fold. Forget about protecting your investment. That's foolish thinking. It's what you save, not what you win that will determine your fate over a long period of time. You lost 3 bets to the hand, why make it 5 or 6? Folding is never incorrect if you believe that you are beat. Every time I rake in a pot, I have to laugh to myself when I hear these words." I had to see what you had, I had to call". How many times have you called on the river knowing you are beat, absolutely sure, in fact, that you are beat? Saving those bets are crucial and should not be overlooked. Calling stations are weak players, don't be one.
Next scenario. You have A-4 and the flop is A-K-7. You bet and the pot is raised. It's now up to you again to decide what to do. Calling accomplishes nothing. Are you afraid that you are out kicked? If so, fold. Chances are if you are out kicked now, you will also be out kicked at the end of the hand. Are you hoping for a 4? That's bad strategy. You have the exact same chance of pairing up your kicker as does your opponent and he has you beat to begin with. By playing this way, you are falling victim to a losing proposition. You have no positive expectation in this situation. Over a lifetime, you will throw away more money then you can possibly imagine. So what do you do? You have 2 options and calling is not one of them. Re-raise, or fold. Period. Being aggressive is good strategy and by being aggressive you will be feared. Passive players have no chance at a poker table. They have been laughed at for years and will continue to be. When I look for weak games, I look for calling stations. Bad, aggressive players are far more dangerous and difficult to beat then tight, passive players. When you are aggressive good things happen and you will be the beneficiary of those good things. It is quite possible that the player that raised you is holding A-x (rag) also and by re-raising him you may force him to fold. Why just call? If you do, you will end up calling right to the end and you will also allow trailers to catch up to you. Bad strategy and bad thinking.
After the river card your options are different. No hand can be improved so it is now ok to check and call. It is also ok to bet and if you are raised to call. Remember, it is always correct to fold if you think you are beat. It's ok to get bluffed. It happens, and good players can be bluffed, bad players cannot.
When you are in second place after the flop chances are you will be in second place when the hand is over. By checking and calling right to the river you are playing foolishly. Make no mistake about that. I can't stress enough how important it is to be the aggressor in every pot that you are in. If you are holding top pair with a weak kicker, it makes no difference. Be aggressive or fold. If a new bettor comes out betting after the turn card, your options remain the same, re-raise or fold. Calling is never correct.
The only time you can check or call is when you are on a straight or flush draw. In fact, it is recommended. Raising a player with a flush draw is very bad strategy when there is multiple action. In this situation you want to maximize your win in case you do complete your draw. You want to eliminate nobody. You want all the players and all the money possible in this pot. Raising is an attempt to narrow the field and narrowing the field on a flush draw is foolish. The only exception to this is when there is one or two opponents in the hand with you and by raising you believe that you can win the pot right there.
In low limit poker, check raising is not recommended. If you flop top pair or two pair, be aggressive. Come out betting every time. If you decide to check raise, one of two things will occur. You will get in 0 bets or two bets. By stepping out and betting you will get in 1 or 3 bets.
When you are holding a medium pocket pair, 8's or 9's for instance, a flop like 10-2-3 is much more favorable then a flop like Q-2-3. It is much more likely that someone is holding a Q as oppose to a 10. These are things that must be considered when you are making your decision to bet, raise or fold.
You will also be faced with hands that are bet, raised and then it is up to you. Your holding 10-9 and the flop is 9-3-7. It is bet and then it is raised. Once again, it is up to you to act. Your choices remain the same. Calling is never correct. Your options are to re-raise or fold. Both plays are correct. You may be up against A-K or A-Q. The raiser may be on two over cards or a draw. If you decide to continue in hands of this nature you must raise in order to get out the over cards. It is ok to fold. Just because you have top pair means nothing. Each situation has to be fully assessed as each situation is different. Was there any raises before the flop? Is the raiser a maniac or a solid player? Just playing your cards is not enough and in order to be successful you must analyze each play for what it's worth. Know your opponents and act accordingly. Observe their actions at the table. Analyze their decisions and the choices they make. Are they in every hand? Do they raise with hands that don't warrant it? Are they rock tight? You'll find it fairly easy to get a read on players within a half hour. Temper your game strategies to your opponents play. Knowing the opposition should dictate to you whether to bet, raise or fold.
Next time you sit down and play poker use this bet, raise or fold strategy. You will immediately see positive results and will benefit from your aggressive play. It's amazing what can happen when your aggressive. When your good and aggressive your luck will be better. When your a calling station it appears as though you are unlucky as you keep getting caught. Fact is, you are playing badly and allowing others to outdraw, or out luck you. You make your own luck most of the time. Tim McCarver, who is in my opinion, the greatest baseball play by play man ever had a classic line. he said," Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I've ever seen. Every time he pitches the other team never scores".
Much as we'd like to believe otherwise, the truth is this: Most of our winnings come from opponents' stupidity, or bad decisions, not from the excellence of our play. Choose the game that features the weakest opponents. A game full of weak players who call too often but are reluctant to raise with strong hands will do fine. After all, if you can't beat players who call too much, who can you beat?