EV of Betting the Pot in Low-Limit NL

Posted by in Poker

I decided to return to online poker this week. I’ve been studying as was my plan, but one thing I realized during my talk with DoubleAs at Bradoween is that it would be easier for me to actually retain what I was learning if I had the opportunity to immediately put it into practice. So Thursday night, after dinner with a friend, I headed home and added one more to the list of programs I will need to uninstall from my father’s laptop.

UB of course has that handy “bet pot” feature – perfect for when you want to screw up someone’s drawing odds. I’d noticed before that some players had taken to using the feature when they were the favorites in the hand, and there were no possible draws on the board. This always confused me – if you don’t fear anything from the board, why not try and extract as much money as possible from your opponent? Why make such a big bet? As I heard many times at Bradoween, “the only hand that’s going to call you is one that has you beat”. If you’re willing to bet $10 on a hand, why not spread it over the flop, turn, and river so you might actually get callers, and can also drop it short of the $10 if you later suspect you’re not the favorite after all?

So what’s with this new phenomena? I think part of it is reverse psychology – make a bet that screams “Don’t Call!!” in the hopes that someone will try and make a move on you and in fact call. I think this only works if you really know your opponent – you have to know they’re prone to making calls they shouldn’t. Of course, what happens when they call and then suck out on you? Or if they raise you? How much do you like your hand then? I watched a big hand go down tonight where 5s raised, Aces re-raised, 5s go all-in, Aces of course call. Absolutely sick to see the 5s catch the flush on the river.

I decided to test this little move out myself tonight. I’m in LP with KdTs and limp in, along with five others. Flop comes Js 7d 3c, and the action is checked to me. I hadn’t yet bluffed a pot for the night, and with everyone checking to me, I thought this was a fairly good time. So I bet pot, $2.50, and UTG calls. At this point, I’m thinking so much for my bluff – I was called, I’ve got to assume he’s got a piece of the flop or is just a stubborn donkey with 9T. Turn comes Kc and my opponent bets the pot, $7.50. He called me on the flop, so I’m thinking he has a piece of it, but I have top pair now, so I call, figuring I have a fair chance of being ahead at this point. River comes 8d, it’s checked to me, and I check as well, aware that the King that made my hand could have easily made two pair for my opponent, if he didn’t already have two pair off the flop. (You know, playing J3 UTG cause it was s0000ted). He flips over 7h 9d, and the chips slide my way.

This hand perfectly demonstrates the “only getting called by better hands” line of thinking. I bet the pot on the flop and was called by the best hand. My opponent bet the flop on the turn and was called by what was then the best hand. On the river we both checked, not really able to put the other on a hand at all.

Of course it worked out great for me, this time. Will it always? I’m really not sure. My gut tells me no, but it seems like (at least in the lower-limit NL games) that the act of betting a draw-killing amount no longer has the same effectiveness. See a few hands like these, and you’ll question every pot-sized bet you see from then on. Is that the traditional bet of vulnerable strength, or is it a complete monster pretending to not want callers?

Take another hand from that evening – flop is rags, it’s checked around. Ace hits the turn, and in a multi-way pot, EP bets pot. No draws on the board…why such a bet? Did he really hit the Ace there, or is it a bluff on a passive table? River is a blank, and is checked. EP shows A 7 for two pair from the turn. Why did top two pair feel the need to bet so strong? Why not bet an amount that more than one player will call, and build the pot? Say the pot is $5 when 5 players see the flop, and the bet to see the turn is $5. One player calls, making the pot $15. Say the turn bet is $15, and no one calls – bettor takes in a $15 pot. Now say on the flop bettor bets slightly more than half the pot – $3. You’ll chase off some people for sure, but not all of them – assume 3 callers. Pot is now $17. Even if it’s checked down to the river, bettor has now won a larger pot, while at the same time risking less of his own money. This is a bad thing?

The flop was rags in that hand. You know who loves to limp in to pots? Baby pairs. It’s certaintly conceivable that someone hit their set there, especially if they’re calling your pot-sized bet. Why do that to yourself? Why not just bet half the pot, and if you get called or raised, then you can start to put together where you stand. Sure, you’ll get some people to fold when you bet the pot, but again – will they fold more often than they call? These days, I don’t think so.

It cost me $2.50 to run a bluff – I knew if I was called, I needed to drop the hand. I had one caller, but what if I had four? I wouldn’t have felt so great about my King at that point. Put yourself in my opponent’s place – would you have bet so strong on the turn, after calling a big bet from the flop? Again, who’s going to call you there? I think this is why I see so many of these “bet pot and get caller” hands checked down to the river. Neither player has any idea where they stand in the hand. If you truly are trying to make someone pay for their draw, you have to keep up the agression. But when there are no draws, how do you determine where you stand? You may indeed have the best hand, but by putting yourself in such a hard place, you’ve effectively screwed yourself out of a bigger pot, since you’re scared to risk any more money on the hand.

I’m curious if anyone is seeing this trend at the higher limits, or if it’s just a low-limit “fancy play”. On the one hand, I can chalk this up to inexperienced players, and those who haven’t had the luxury of late-night strategy sessions where the idea of betting small to win big was covered in depth. On the other, I see this also as a domino effect – see it pay off for someone once, and you’ll try it yourself. And hey, it works! You won! Will you track the times you use this move and really analyze its EV? Doubtful. Like a heroin addict, you’ll win just enough times at reasonable intervals for you to ignore the times you lose with it, and that’ll keep you coming back for more. You’d have to take a few big beats with it before you really ever stop to think that maybe it wasn’t so great after all.

What disturbs me most about this new trend is that it forces me to really think about calling something that used to be a given fold. If off the flop I have 8 outs to the nut straight and the bet to me is the pot – do I really want to call? If the turn doesn’t bring me one of my outs, now what? Did you really have a good piece of the flop and wanted to drive drawers off? Or did you already flop the straight and are trying to look weak? Am I going to be right in my read more often than I’m wrong? (So far…the answer is a resounding no). It’s also disturbing that the bet we all relied on to show that strength and throw off everyone’s odds is now no longer effective – chances are, at least one person is going to call you. If there are 5 people in the hand with me, and I’m in LP, and everyone one of them calls the pot bet off the flop, you bet I’m drawing to my straight now. Great for me, the drawer; horrible for you who holds the nuts off the flop. Is there a solution to the problem of the loss of bet pot=fold? Or do we just have to realize that some people may call, and we’re now going to have to commit more money to a vulnerable hand and then possibly drop it once the apparent draw hits?

Or do we just continue cursing at the donkeys and jopkes of the online poker world?