Poker betting strategy in cash games

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Cory | Poker Articles, Poker Cash Games

Submitted by Cory, this article belongs to the Poker Cash Games series.

In small stakes games where I’m not bluffing a very large percentage of the time, I have three primary principles that determine whether and how much I should bet.  Am I betting for value, to protect my hand, or am I controlling the size of the pot?

Most beginning players might hear something about protecting top pair on a flush draw flop and end up betting pot and a half to price out the flush draw.  So they end up betting to protect their hand at the exclusion of getting value or controlling the size of the pot.  These three principles need to work together.  If there is no value in top pair then why not just fold Ace King pre-flop since I’m most likely to make a top pair top kicker type hand when I hit?

Truth is, I want the flush draw to call, I just want the flush draw to call for a bad price.  I also don’t really want to over bet in hopes of protecting a top pair hand because now if I get called, I’ve created an oversized pot with a vulnerable hand.  Chances are, if someone wants to play a pot this big; my top pair is probably in trouble.

The trick is to bet an amount that extracts the maximum value from hands I am beating, while charging a heavy price from draws that might catch me, while simultaneously keeping the pot at a manageable size against hands that might already be ahead of me.  I don’t want to leave money on the table by not betting enough, while laying a flush draw profitable odds to chase me down, but I also don’t want to bet so much that I’m forced to call off the rest of my stack if a better hand goes all in.

These three principles are required in different proportion based on my hand strength as well as my opponent’s hand strength.  If I have the nuts, I’m obviously not worried about the pot getting too big, but I want to make sure I don’t chase all of the worse hands away by making over large bets that my opponents can’t call.  If I have a vulnerable hand like top pair, I need to make sure that I’m getting value, but that I’m not building a giant pot where I can’t choose to lay it down on the flop or on a later street.

I have to develop an ability to judge my hand and my opponents hand, then weigh which of these three principles is most important and structure my betting accordingly.  This will help me win the most when I have the best hand, build large pots with the nuts while still leaving myself the ability to get away from a hand if my opponent pulls ahead.  Don’t just learn one of these principles and use it at the exclusion of the other two.  All three must work together every time it’s your turn to bet.

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