Betting and gambling are key parts of poker but they are not the same thing. Considered betting is the cornerstone for the successful poker player. A gamble may be necessary at times but will be thought through before making that play.
Betting is mostly a reflection on the cards that you have and occasionally an opinion on what your opponents do not have; it should be considered and controlled. A gamble is an extraordinary risk taking play and should not be made lightly. Do not confuse betting with gambling and do not confuse gambling with bluffing.
Throughout this page and the sections Treat Betting as a Conversation, Proportioning your bets, Bluff club, Pot odds and Slow-playing and check raising , I will usually refer to the play in Texas Hold’em poker, as it is currently the most popular variety. You can adapt your thinking to other forms of the game.
As standard practice, bet when you believe you have the best poker hand; but be prepared to fold if that idea changes. Once your chips are in the middle they are gone, don’t throw good money after bad. Bet to take down a pot early; do not slow-play* your hand if there are cards in the pack to beat you. They have a nasty habit of showing up when you least want them.
For instance if you have Ah-Ac, and the flop is Ad-6d-Js, you should bet to end the hand now. You have a very strong hand but with two diamonds and two cards to a straight showing, allowing more cards to come to the board may give your opponents an opportunity to overtake you (or bet as if they have).
Only if you have the absolute nuts** should you play the opposition like a violin. *The term slow-play, means to disguise the value of your cards by betting an amount less than is common for its strength. **The nuts is a poker term meaning – the best possible hand that can be made from both the cards now showing and from cards to come (if any).
When and why to gamble As a rule, gamble only when you have to. By that, when you have less than 8-10 times the big blind left, find some cards with which to make your move; draw a deep breath and get all your chips in the pot (pre-flop) before anyone else. Usually, with this amount left you can still hurt the bigger stacks at the table; you will often be in a race* or may even pick up the blinds (and antes, if used) unopposed.
Generally you will need an exceptionally good draw and/or a desperately short stack to gamble in a hand after the flop or turn cards. *A race is generally thought of as being you against another player, having either hand of a pocket pair (Jacks or lower) against two over cards (AK, AQ). I could write a section on cash table gambling quoting ‘pot odds’, ‘expectation value’, ‘fold equity’ and all sorts of baffling numbers to justify the gamble.
However, those terms are often used to excuse poor play by someone who simply got lucky. They can also be used by a player who was unlucky and had made a correct call. Best advice is; do not gamble, play your best poker to out-play your opponents and win chips. I
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