THE NUMBERS GAME
When it comes to poker, know your strategy and betting amount
By Jim Feist
We are bombarded with choices about numbers every day. How much is this item? How much is that? Gas costs how much? It doesn’t go away at the poker tables, either. One of the dilemmas we experience at the tables constantly is how much to bet or raise? The thinking is all over the map, as well: Did I raise enough to get a call? What amount should I wager not to make everyone fold? She raised how much? Uh-oh, maybe my number is up and it’s time for me to get out.
All of which is where math comes into play. In a no limit hold ’em tournament, the usual raise is about three to four times the big blind. However, whether you’re a math wizard or not, there’s an easy way to calculate how much to raise in all situations. Before the flop, if you want to raise with no callers before you, raise four times the big blind. For example, if the blinds are 50/100, you would raise it to around 400.
A “limper” means to call the minimum amount required in the first round of betting in order to establish or maintain a stake in the pot. That is, to call the blind or the bring-in without raising. When seated at the table, “isolating the limper” is the term for raising a pre-flop limper in order to take the initiative and play against a seemingly weak poker player.
Anyway, if there are limpers ahead of you, add those calls to the amount you raise. If the blinds are 50/100 and there are two players ahead of you, it would be 400 + 100 + 100, for a raise of 600.
If you are re-raising someone’s raise, multiply the raise by three. If there is a caller to the raise, add that to your re-raise. For instance, continuing with the example I’ve out- lined, if the blinds are 50/100,let’s say someone then raises it to 400. If nobody calls the 400 and it comes around to you, go ahead and re-raise it to 1,200.
It’s a good rule of thumb to keep your raises at or around these amounts. You don’t want to raise too little with a terrific hand like a pair of kings and have a weak hand call you and hit two pair on the flop. Those exiting moments when you’re holding a monster hand, you only want one or two other players to call, so you have a large enough raise to flush out the weaker hands.
Pocket aces is a great hand to go heads up with. However, if four or five other players are in the hand, it’s a good bet that one of those other hands will make a better hand than just a pair of aces on the flop. So if you are raising with a marginal hand, be careful—you want to raise enough to make other players buy in to the notion that you have a much stronger hand. If you raise too little, sharp players will probably sniff out that weakness and re-raise you. This is where understanding your opponents comes in, because in that example you’d likely have to fold up shop, wasting time and valuable chips.
Let’s move on to the next phase. After you raise pre-flop, the flop appears and you’re ready to plow ahead. How much to play? If there are, say, 1,000 chips in the pot and you have a decent pair, you’re likely confident you have an excellent shot at the best hand. A standard wager would be between 60% and 75% of the pot, so in that example you would bet 700.
This percentage of the pot can also be applied on the turn and the river. If you still think you have the best hand, go ahead and wager around 75% of the existing pot. This applies to what the opponent is doing, too. If they wager 75%, they’re either sitting on a good hand or trying to make everyone at the table think they are working from a strong position. So all kinds of strategy is taking place at the table—playing, thinking and bluffing. But it’s essential to utilize sound money management with your chips.
Turning the tables around for a moment in a cautious vein, never bet half of your chips or more without going all-in. If you want to bet half of your chip stack, just go all-in. If you’re willing to risk that much you should be willing to bet all your chips. Keeping tabs on how many chips are placed is an important element of being a successful poker tournament player. And be consistent. That way any opponent can’t tell by your bets what type of hand you have. If it’s too small of a raise, that could send a giant smoke signal that you have a weak hand. Too large of a raise will be sensed as a bluff on your part, so anticipate potential consequences. Betting the right amounts consistently will give you a psychological edge and in the long run, a financial one—which is the real name of the game.