Don’t Make the Worse Hand Fold! (Part 1)

The optimal risk

In my last article I wrote about the importance of river c-bets. Today we’ll look at why it’s important not to overdo it by betting too big and making your opponent fold their hand. It’s a common dilemma whether to simply stop your opponent from staying in the hand by betting big, or take a risk by giving them the opportunity to hit the missing card; one that they can potentially beat us with. As always, somewhere in the middle is usually the best move.

Mistake #1: Betsizing too large preflop

Let’s start with the preflop betting. Using different sizings with certain starting hands is a recurring mistake. This is unbalanced, and therefore the result will be a very exploitable preflop strategy. The most common element of this mistake is when a player usually opens between 2-2.5 big blinds, but raises between 3-5 big blinds with stronger hands. These will tend to be mostly strong but vulnerable hands like JJ, QQ, KK, AA, and a lot of times AK. Someone who plays this way might notice many times that they get a fold to their stronger hands, and get called for the weaker hands, or even 3bet. This is a huge mistake that you shouldn’t make! Pay attention to players who play this way and exploit them!

The correct play is to make all preflop bets the same size when opening the pot, so that it won’t be easy to read the strength of your hand. You can make adjustments, but only small ones, so that your hand will still be difficult to recognize. It’s personal preference, but it’s a tip that can work really well in practice, especially in tournaments.

You should open with 70% of your medium strength hands 2 big blinds, and 2.5 big blinds with the leftover 30%. But you should also then open 2 big blinds with 30% of your very strong hands, and 2.5 big blinds with the other 70%. A tip is to look at the second hand on your watch to determine the bet size you’ll go with on a certain hand in order to be random. This way your opponents will see you are switching between 2 and 2.5 big blind raises with seemingly no correlation between the bet size and your hand strength, but the truth is that you are open-raising with very strong hands a little bit greater in average than with the not-so-strong ones.

Chris Moneymaker playing live tournament poker

Mistake #2: Betting too large after the flop

You often see hands where the bigger hand, for example an overpair, makes a huge, sometimes bigger-than-the-pot itself c-bet on the flop. In these hands, its usually clear that the player is praying for their opponent to fold. Players like this are afraid to continue, and they have totally missunderstood the concept of betting. You are c-betting with (most likely) the strongest hand after the flop because you want to get wrong calls from the worse hands. In these situations you in no way want to get a fold – you want them to reserve that for when you are bluffing.

Imagine the following scenario. You are in the early phase of a tournament with 50-75 big blind deep stacks at the table. You raise preflop with A-J and your opponent calls in position. The flop is A-J-4 with two spades. You have top 2 pair and x-ray eyes, allowing you to see that your opponent has a flushdraw with 7-8 of spades. The action is on you. Should you bet? If so, what would be the optimal size? I think you’ll agree you should c-bet at this point to make sure you don’t give away a free card. The correct move is an optimal bet size just big enough for your opponent to still call. In this case your opponent has at most a 19% chance to improve, so you win in all cases long term when they get offered worse pot odds than this. If you bet half the pot, they’ll get 25% pot odds (they can win 4 units for 1 unit), and if you bet bigger than this, the situation is even more unfavourable for them. My suggestion is that you should bet between 50% and 80% of the pot depending on the opponent.

It’s usually true that the bigger you bet, the bigger the chance to win the pot, but you cant be certain that in the long term you’ll earn the most money with big-sized bets. If you bet smaller – as small as the opponent is willing to call with their weaker hand – you’ll lose the pot more often, but the chips you win will compensate you in the long term.

You need to take a certain, healthy amount of risk in order to maximalize winnings. The optimal amount of risk depends on the stack, the opponents’ playing style and several other factors. We’ll look at how to evaluate these factors, and about the special extreme situations you might find yourself, in later parts of the series.