Bet early, often

Mar 21, 2005 1:13 AM

Most experts agree that poker, either Seven Card Stud or Texas Hold’em are simple games to learn, and that the key to tournament play is understanding the proper and strategic way to bet.

Moreover, your betting pattern, whether aggressive, passive or defensive, will most likely be the difference between winning and losing.

By the last card you should have a good idea what draws your opponent has, what you need to win, what you need to bet and what you need to call. At least that’s the theory.

Factors that improve your chances are the number of outs, knowing what your opponent’s calling-betting frequency is and what are the odds of a bluff.

If you wait until you see your last card to come to a decision, your hesitation gives up too much to your opponent and vice versa. Usually there is so much money in the pot that it would be wrong to fold at the end. Folding on seventh street when there is any mathematical chance your opponent could be bluffing with the worst hand is a monumental mistake compared to calling. Even so, some circumstances allow you to fold — a person who never bluffs, exposed cards that can beat your hand, an insignificant pot. A life-threatening situation.

Most of the clues that have been discussed before apply to the last card. The real decisions are to bet out if you only have the lead or raise the bet if you have a hand. One of the common hands is a draw versus your two pair or trips. If you have the made hand, do you bet?

Your analysis must include the tendencies of your opponent, the pot size, whether you have live cards to draw and whether you want to see his cards or not. If he will only bet when he hits, then check and save a bet. You would still have a raise option. If your opponent will bluff, you can get into him when all of your cards are live with a large enough pot. Add your bet and his raise to the pot size plus the re-raise and call for implied odds compared to you chances of winning outright and the odds of improvement. All of these decisions can and should be made before seventh street. If you are in doubt because both hands seem weak, select the minimum hand you need to bet. At the worst, it can only cost you a bet and you have a chance to take the pot. For those more mathematically inclined, game theory will provide more exact frequencies.

Some people will bet or check in the blind. Is that a good policy? I think that the more routine and mechanical your play, the less information you divulge. When an opponent knows you have not looked at your card, he is being given certain knowledge of your hand. Plus, he will have nothing else to do but watch your face when you check your card.

Another habit to which you should adhere is to shuffle all three of your down cards after you have looked them. I do not mean go through that shuffle-squeeze routine that delays the game. I am talking about concealing your playing patterns by not giving out needless information. Maybe only 10 percent of the hands will be affected by knowing the order of your down cards, but a regular shuffle will leak 10 percent less information.

Knowing what you are going to do will result in some strange bonuses. Occasionally a player will muck his hand with a comment like, "If you can call, you win." He may even have had the winning hand and you just called for information about starting cards. On the other hand if you call, be sure you see his hand first. If you can beat it, then show yours. You are within your rights to wait and, the less you reveal, the harder you are to read.