How to bet:

"How to bet?" I know, it sounds silly. But most low limit players don't know how to bet properly. Contrary to what some believe, low limit sng's are actually more aggressive than high limit sng's. Higher limit sng's are still aggressive, as all good players are aggressive poker players and the higher limit tables are populated by good players. However, the lower limit tables are populated by loose maniacs who call preflop raises with just about anything and will call and/or raise with all kinds of hands all the way to the river. Furthermore, low limit players usually bet without any purpose whatsoever, and that's the main reason for writing this section, to clear up for the beginner and intermediate players the reasons why they should be betting, or check/calling. Mind you, folding is always a good option. Most players could significantly improve their game in an instant by learning where the FOLD button is located on their computer screen. Your chips are precious. Use them in pots you can win. Don't fight for pots you can't win.

The main reasons to bet include:

Value bets: when your hand is likely the best hand and you want to get more money into the pot
Probe bets: which are a lot like value bets, only perhaps a little smaller and are usually used partly as information-gathering bets (probing) when you, for instance, have hit the flop, but not well, and bet to find out whether your opponent wants to contest the pot. (Probe bets are almost useless the lower the level of poker you are playing, but their value increases dramatically as you go up in levels.)
Semi-bluffs: are usually bets used on drawing hands, where you don't have a 'made' hand but by betting you may win the pot if he folds to your semi-bluff, or, you get called and improve to the best hand on the turn or river, or, you get called and miss your draw but win the pot on the end anyway by bluffing (stone cold bluff).
Bluffs: stone cold bluffs are familiar to everyone, and are usually used when you miss the flop and have absolutely nothing and never improve and are almost certainly behind in the hand and bet anyway in an attempt to steal the pot.
Continuation bets: are made when you were the preflop raiser, are called, but then miss the flop, and bet on the flop as a continuation of your preflop action.
In other words, you were the aggressor preflop, and continue that role on the flop (even if you miss).
Defensive bets: these bets are usually used from out of position with a marginal hand (usually on the river) when you want to see a cheap showdown.
Check/Call: the check/call is a passive non-betting approach to playing a hand, and while most people would criticize it, it has its merits in certain situations.

Whenever you make a bet it should be for one of the reasons above. If you can't come up with a reasonably convincing explanation as to why you are planning to make a bet, then you should check.

Betting:

If you see someone make a bet at low limit poker and ask them why they just bet, they may not even be able to give you a convincing reason because they don't even know why they bet. Their answer to why they bet could be as simple as, "Because no one else did." However, if they actually have a hand, they'd probably say, "Because I thought I had the best hand." That's a value bet. A value bet is betting to get more money into the pot with the best hand.
The problem that a lot of players have, however, is that they don't know the correct size bet to make for their value bets relative to the size of the pot, and based on what kinds of hands are likely being held by active opponents considering the cards on the board, or the type or number of players in the pot, or considering the action from players that have acted ahead of them, or may be acting behind them. In uncomplicated situations, where the hand is contested by few, value bets should usually approach the size of the pot, depending on what cards are on the flop. If the flop doesn't have any draws, and the value bettor has top pair w/top kicker, for example, then the value bets can be smaller, because a smaller bet often accomplishes your goals sufficiently:

- by making a smaller sized value bet on the flop with top pair or similar made hands, such as an overpair to the board, then you are not building a large pot unnecessarily in case you are behind in the hand. Many players will overplay their top pair w/good kicker hands and put too much money into the pot only to discover they were beat all along. Once you put about half your chips into the pot then you commit yourself to defending that pot with your whole stack, and that's why playing small pots with certain hands, such as top pair, is often to your advantage. In other words, not every hand you play is life or death; you'll get outflopped, it happens all the time, so protect yourself early by playing smaller pots with vulnerable hands. On the other hand...

...if you have top pair w/top kicker, or an overpair to the board, and the flop has draws, then your value bet has to be sized correctly to dissuade too much action from the drawing hands, should one or more players in the hand be playing a drawing hand that fits into this flop. You won't know for sure, but if there's an obvious flush or straight draw on the flop and you hit top pair w/top kicker, then you'd need to bet enough to protect your hand against those hands from drawing out on you should they exist. In fact, if you make what you believe to be a value bet, but its size is inappropriate (too small) considering the cards on the flop, and someone is out there with the draw for this flop, then you are letting that player draw for the correct price and you have made the most serious poker mistake you can, which is giving someone correct odds to draw at there hand. A casino doesn't give their players the correct odds to play their games, and neither should you. You want opponents to play for a premium against you, and conversely, you want to get the right price to fill your own draws (when you're on one), and that way you are always going to be on the right side of the pot odds, whether on a draw or defending against a draw, and therefore cannot possibly lose in the long run. (If you read that and don't understand it, reread it until you do becauser it is the nexus of poker and you can't win unless you understand it: simpley put, when you gamble you need a positive expectation (+ value, or, +EV) in order to win in the long run.)

This brings up the issue of pot odds, which I won't delve too deeply into here, but if you make your value bets with your powerful hands about pot sized on flops with obvious straight and/or flush draws, then you can never go terribly wrong if your opponent is on a draw since it's unlikely he'll get the right price to be drawing unless he's on both a straight and a flush draw, or, if you're at a table of calling stations and once it gets back to the player on the draw, (when one or more calling stations in the intermediary seats have called your bet) the draw will be getting more than enough pot odds to try to hit his flush or straight because everyone has called your bet and now he only has to call a pittance of the pot to draw at his hand. If that were to happen, however, there would be nothing you could do to dissuade him from calling in hopes of catching the card he needs, but the important thing is that at the time you were forced to take action (of betting), you made the correct size bet to attempt to force a bad call from a draw. Unfortunately, the player or players who may have called with the 2nd or 3rd best 'made' hands may have given the guy drawing to the straight or flush the correct pot odds to try to hit his card. There's nothing you can do about that - as long as you do what is appropriate when it is your turn to act, then you have done all you can. Consider this:

-when value betting you want 2nd best hands to call, but force drawing hands to make a mistake in calling, should they call.
You'll need to read the board properly to ascertain what hands may or may not be out there, and then bet accordingly. Those considerations should be made before deciding the size of your value bets. Sometimes you may want to end the hand on the flop, in which case your value bet would be an overbet of the pot. This will chase out all the draws. If there isn't much out there, ie. it's a safe flop, then size your bets on the smaller side so as to not build too large a pot with top pair, or your overpair, but play the hand more aggressively on the flop to protect your 'made' hand against possible draws on the flop.

Incidentally, a very powerful piece of information can be garnered when you make a pot size value bet on a flop with draws, and are called by someone you consider to be a very good player. Usually this player – if he's any good and calls the bet in the higher range – is not on the draw you're seeing on the flop. You can usually reduce the likelihood of that possibility should he call your flop bet and the draw is filled on the turn. This is comforting to know because you will have reduced his hands down to other possibilities, such as a set, two pair, middle pairs, top pairs w/weak kickers, etc.

The reason the good player will not call a bet on the flop in the high range (pot size) when on a draw is because good usually won't call a bet that doesn't give him the correct pot odds to draw to his hand if he's on the draw. However, be warned, this same player may still raise here on a semi-bluff, hoping you'll fold the hand he believes you are holding (and likely are holding as represented by the flop), ie, top pair w/good kicker, to either represent a set, two pair, or top pair with a better kicker. If you then call his semi-bluff he can then hit his card on the turn or river and bust you, or, force a fold from you on a later street even if he misses his draws. These betting patterns are much too creative for low limit players and you'll almost never see this type of thing at those tables.

Probe bets are usually about half the size of the pot and are often used when you flop second pair, or have top pair w/no kicker and are out of position. The purpose of the bet is to gain information, or to win the pot on the flop, and its size is measured so as to not build a huge pot with a vulnerable hand. Most people's probe bets are actually – in their mind – value bets, and they don’t gain any benefit from its use as a probe, since the bettor doesn't understand the signals sent back to them by the actions of players who react to their bets. In other words, probe betting is primarily to buy cheap information about your opponents hands. If you make a probe bet and are raised, then the other player is telling you that he has you beat, or is on a huge draw. The probe bet you made is answered: you are probably badly beaten. This is what you are paying for – information. Once you have this information - he raises - you must act with it appropriately, usually by folding, (or calling and playing the rest of the hand very cautiously).

Basically your probe bet may or may not be saying, "I have something, it's not much, but it's something – so what do you have?"

Probe bets also have the subtle advantage of putting more money into the pot with the best hand, making the bet basically a smaller-sized value bet, on the occasions you actually have the best hand and your opponent is willing to play a 2nd best hand.

Probe bets don't work well in low limit sng's, especially at the first few levels, because low limit sng's are extraordinarily loose in the early stages, and people will call the smaller bets with absolutely nothing in hopes of hitting their lucky card on the turn or river. In this sense, the "probe" aspect of the bet is lost. They'll call anyway, with both their strong and weak hands, so you don't learn much by probe betting. And if you are called by enough of these random-eaze hands, one or more will likely draw out on you or have you beat already.

An alternative to probe bets, especially against loose aggressive low limit players, is the style of check/calling against a small field or check/folding against a large field with your marginal hands, especially out of position and especially early in the sng. (The check/call is covered down below.)

The semi-bluff is what it sounds like - it's a bluff, but only sort of, and here's how it works: the semi-bluff is used when you probably don't have the best hand at the moment, but your hand could develop into the best hand, if called. Most people don't understand how to semi-bluff and lose a lot of pots this way since they don't disguise their drawing hands, which semi-bluffs are perfect bets to make with draws. It has many advantages to check/calling, because semi-bluffing with a good draw may win you the pot uncontested if they fold, and, you can manipulate the pot size by betting an amount that gives you the correct odds to draw to your card, whereas had you checked you would give someone else the opportunity to bet and they may bet an amount that didn't give you the correct pot odds to call. (I want to encourage you to reread that last sentence until you understand it.) Also, when you semi-bluff into an opponent you are usually disguising your hand, as it may confuse your opponent on what type of hand your playing, ie. made vs. draw. Most people on draws tend to check/call, and that's often a tip-off if the flush or straight is filled on the turn or river and he either bets, or checkraises you.

By semi-bluffing you win and you win, whether they fold or call, it doesn't matter, as long as they don't raise so much that they ruin your pot odds to draw at your hand.

However, one mistake you can occasionally make by semi-bluffing is to bet when checked to (when you are the last player to act in the betting round) and then get checkraised out of the pot. In this instance the semi-bluff would be a mistake, and you would've been better off checking in turn and taking a free card.

As mentioned, once called on a semi-bluff, if your card hits and you make your hand, it will be better disguised than had you check/called because most players will play their draws passively by check/calling. Also, another advantage of the semi-bluff is if you bet and are only raised the minimum – which often happens as a form of incidental and flawed probe/value betting by the raiser - you'll still have the correct odds to draw to your good flush and straight draws, so your opponent will not be learning or gaining anything from a minimum raise, nor will he be pushing you off your draw, only adding to your pot odds to draw at your hand. Furthermore, in this situation you will still have the opportunity to bluff at the pot on a stone cold bluff on the river if you miss your draws, provided you have enough chips, since your original bet on the flop represented a hand in the first place.

Bluffs are what everyone understands as 'betting with nothing'. Most people bluff way too much. There are right and wrong times to bluff, and unless you know the difference then you should probably avoid bluffing. You can be a winner playing online poker and virtually never bluff. So if you are uncomfortable bluffing then you really don't need to bluff to win playing poker.

Online poker is notoriously loose, and players – especially early in the sng – will be calling all kinds of bets with a variety of crappy hands, so your bluffs early in the sng won't have a high success rate. Many players at the lower limits are only thinking on one level, and that is, "What do I have?" They don't care what you have and aren't sophisticated enough to understand what hand you are representing when you bluff. They will call with almost anything. Save your bluffs for good players, because they are your only bluffable opponents. You can't bluff a sucker.

Continuation bets are optional bets made by the preflop raiser who was called, but missed the flop, and bets anyway as a continuation of his preflop action. They are highly profitable because your opponent may elect not to fight for the pot and may be folding the best hand. Continuation bets are not necessarily bluffs, since you still may be ahead in the hand. However, they are best used against only one opponent. But beware, as good players will recognize a continuation bet (because they use them too), and will especially recognize a continuation bet made by someone who habitually uses them, and may raise on the flop or turn with nothing to steal the pot. To confuse your better opponents it's best to mix up your continuation bets with check/calls, check/folds and checkraises, all the while holding the exact same hand, (which is often AK on a missed flop).

Defensive bets are usually used on the river when you are out of position and have a good hand but are concerned that you may be beat by a lone opponent but would like to see a showdown for as cheap as possible. Most people don't know this bet exists. This is how it works: instead of checking the river, a defensive bet would involve betting into your opponent from out of position to prevent him from having the opportunity of betting an amount that may force you to fold, and not allow you to see a showdown. And by folding to his bet you may be folding the best hand since he may have been drawing and missed, or, playing a 2nd best hand - you won't know. Defensive bets help avoid this problem. By leading out and betting yourself, instead of checking with the intention of calling a small bet, you are giving him the opportunity to fold, or, to just call. He will not (or should not) raise you on the river unless he holds a very strong hand because if he raised you'd have the opportunity to reraise, and he doesn't know what you have and won't want to make a mistake at this point in the hand. However, if he did raise you then you're almost certainly badly beat and could fold with confidence. Probably the biggest advantage of making a defensive bet on the river is that it allows you to decide the size of the bet you're prepared to play the river for. It also gives you the opportunity to force a fold from your opponent when he should call, and prevents you from being bluffed out by a missed draw.

The check/call is a passive non-bet where you check with the intention of calling. Again, most people are also unaware of this approach to betting, even though it's a non-bet. They do it all the time, however, and in many cases it's known as being a 'calling station'. There are instances where being a calling station is an excellent method of getting more money into the pot when you have a marginal hand that's best, the flop is safe, but at the same time you want to protect yourself from building a big pot when you have a 2nd best hand. It allows your opponent to bluff at a pot, where, if you were to have bet out yourself, he would've folded. That's the key.
The time to use it is usually in unraised pots from out of position against a very small field when you hit a marginal hand on the flop, such as a good middle pair or top pair w/virtually no kicker and there's not much action (betting). So, the key point about the check/call is that if you bet, he'd fold, but if you check, he'd bet on a bluff, wherein you'd make money you wouldn't have otherwise made. Ka-ching. This is an advanced method of check/calling, and of accumulating chips you woulnd't otherwise have made, and is one of the only instances where passive play is usually profitable.

Betting is a language. It's a dance. Jumping up and down, wildly flailing your arms around in the air is a form of dance, but if it's the only dance you know, you can't dance. I can bet better than I can dance - but I can dance, too. See my video.