Where am I?

Where am I?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Dear Dr Tom,

My friend says that betting to “see where you are” is an out of date concept and a bad way to play, but I always thought it was an important part of poker. Who is right?

Liam, Plymouth

Dear Liam,

Basically, your friend is right. The game is now too tough for this play to be profitable. The logic of the bet for information goes like this. If I bet and opponent folds, he has nothing; if he calls, he has a middling hand, and if he raises, he has a strong hand. In contrast if I just check, opponent may feel able to bet his middling hand and, god forbid, even bet with nothing. So the money you lose by being raised off your information-seeking bet saves you in two places: first, you don’t get bluffed out, and second, when opponent calls you have a clearer idea of his hand strength to better play him on the turn where the bets get expensive.

This won’t wash anymore. In today’s tough games your opponent is not going to tell you how good his hand is simply because you’ve bet at him. A good player is going to be less concerned about the contents of his own hand than what you typically do when he raises you, and if that’s fold then your “information” bet just costs you a ton of money in a short time.

Instead, just accept the lack of information you have to work with and, given your estimate of opponent’s range, act in whatever way you feel maximises your expectation. When your opponent responds, he will inevitably give you information (albeit not hugely reliable if his range is balanced) and this you should take on board. But don’t pay for it up front.

In practice, your game is unlikely to visibly change that much if you take this on board. You will still be betting in most of the spots you were already betting, namely when you’ve led the action on the previous street. However, you’ll hopefully be thinking a bit harder about what opponent’s response means when you’ve checked to him since you’ve accepted that there is just as much information to be had here as when you’ve fired out a bet. Many poker players only seem to think at about 50% capacity once they start checking, but have a look at the pro’s in action and see how inventive their play is after checking to assure yourself that they are refining their read at every step.

Tags: Tom Sambrook, Strategy, betting to see where you are