If we don’t bet, we won’t win…

Poker might well be the most complex of games, and it might take more lifetimes than we have to master, but that doesn’t mean we’re obliged to make things more complicated than they need to be on our quest to improve.

So, back to the opening simple fact – if we want to win at online poker, we’re going to need to get used to betting. As is often the case, it seems odd to point out the obvious, but – especially for new and inexperienced players – actually getting into the ideal mindset that sees us being able to naturally be willing to bet is easier said than done.

Be aggressive

Again – being aggressive would (and should) appear to be the most obvious poker advice. But it’s one thing knowing what we need to do, and quite another being able to execute it.

Checking costs us nothing and is essentially the easy, non-committal way to stay involved in a hand that the vast majority of beginners feel most comfortable with. Calling involves putting chips in the middle, but only the same amount as the opposition; there’s no attempt being made when calling to assume the initiative and wrest control of the pot from the hands of our opponents, no claim is being staked.

Only by betting do we give ourselves the opportunity to take a pot by force rather than have to rely on the strength of our hand or the outcome of a battle – and that’s without even mentioning variance… Meanwhile, betting when in possession of a big hand also serves to build the pot. Basically, betting is a must and a key part of the game, and the sooner we get used to it the better.

The problem for many players is that, for various reasons, they lack the confidence to be so bold as to bet, even if they might be aware that it’s theoretically the correct way to play. What often puts off people is when they realize that to make a successful play for a pot, not only do we need to assume our role of aggressor from the very beginning, but we might be required to keep betting on successive streets.

It’s being able to let loose and work our way through the gears that many find hard to adapt to. Instead, until we reach that plateau of experience at which such things become natural, there’s a tendency to err on the side of caution. This leads to checking when we should really be betting, and only calling when the situation is shouting out to us to raise.

Don’t hold back

Given that betting is a fundamentally crucial ingredient in the optimal recipe, it follows that it becomes the norm. That isn’t to say we should bet all the time, regardless of position or hand quality, but certainly, when circumstances do indeed point to betting/raising being the appropriate action we need to give that option priority.

Of course, there are times when an alternative, less direct approach might work better but, generally, aggression is usually going to have the best chance of achieving the desired result. With this in mind, big pairs and AK and so on need to be played hard and fast. Remember that as well as juicing up the pot in order to maximize our opportunities, betting (and raising) also serves another important purpose in thinning out the field – thus increasing our chance of winning a pot – or obliging weak(er) hands to pay over the odds to remain in contention. Giving opponents cheap or even free cards when we’re strong is a poker sin, but one that is committed time and again because we can’t bring ourselves to bet enough.

Finally, note that we shouldn’t be limiting our betting to only when we have premium hands or when it’s clear we’re way ahead of the opposition as a hand progresses. To play so predictably would inevitably lead to our being exploited by those players who are keeping tabs on our betting habits. In order to avoid giving the game away by betting too rarely (and, therefore, not getting paid off as much as we should because opponents will simply know not to invest further) we need to vary our habits and mix in some aggression with less than premium hands. Again, this might seem difficult at first but, with time, it becomes totally natural. Hopefully, just by virtue of having read this article, that time will come sooner rather than later…

Have fun!



AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 06.01.2021 · last updated 06.01.2021