Online poker strategy guide - Betting Patterns
Are there identifiable betting patterns you can spot in a poker game, and can you use this knowledge to gain an edge on the opposition as well as to improve your own game? There hasn't been all that much written about to betting patterns, but it's something every top-notch poker player thinks about from time to time. If you've never considered the implications of betting patterns, don't feel like you're all alone here Charley; many of the opponents you play against every day are blind to them too. Despite this lack of awareness, they've been seeing these patterns for years; they just haven't done anything with the information. Maybe you haven't, either.
An awareness of betting patterns serves a number of purposes that run the gamut from tracking the playing styles of your adversaries to tracking down some parts of your own game that may need improvement. Let's begin by examining the most common pattern you'll find in a hold'em game. It goes like this: call, bet, bet, check. That's simple, isn't it? You've seen your opponents do this all the time. You probably do it yourself. You call the blinds before the flop, catch a hand you like something like top pair with a good kicker so you bet the flop, bet the turn, but when you fail to improve to three-of-a-kind or two pair, you decide to check the river to save a bet just on the odd chance that you're beaten.
Guess what? By analyzing, or at least becoming aware of betting patterns, you've just picked up a small leak in your game. You're leaving money on the table. Do you see it? Most of the time the river card is not going to promote your opponent's hand to one that's better than yours as long as you had the best hand going into the river. Sure, there will be times when you're facing three or four opponents, two suited cards flop, and your opponents passively call while you do the betting on the flop and turn. It looks like at least one of them is on a flush draw, doesn't it? And maybe he is. If a third suited card jumps out of the deck on the river you certainly have my permission to check as long as your opponents act after you do. But if you have the luxury of acting last, go ahead and bet. You're likely to be safe, not sorry, if you do.
A player who is fortunate enough to catch his flush card on the river usually comes out betting when it's his turn to act. And if he had a bigger hand than yours before the river suppose he flopped a set, or the top two pair well sure as we're sitting here, he's gonna do his checkraising on the turn, not the river.
What's the message in this bottle? Most of the time you have the best hand on the turn, you stand a very good chance of having the best hand on the river, and you ought to bet it. OK, OK, so you'll run into some nasty situations when you bet, are called or even raised and are beaten. Don't worry about it. It's no big deal in the grand scheme of things because you're far more likely to attract a crying call from a weaker hand than you are to induce a raise from someone holding an extremely strong one. This is so true that if you habitually check the river with a hand like top pair, good kicker, you are leaving money on the table and you're not doing much for your image, either. But this is about as easy a fix as there is in anyone's poker game. Just bet the river. That's all there is too it. Change your betting pattern from call, bet, bet, check, to this pattern: call, bet, bet, bet, and see for yourself.
Suppose you're on the other side of this coin and you don't think you have the best hand on the river. What should you do then? Well, the fact that you know your opponent is going to check all but the very strongest of his holdings gives you a chance to either show down your hand in hopes that it might be stronger than your opponent's, or even bluff if he is capable of laying down a hand that fits the call, bet, bet, check betting pattern. That's not too shabby, is it? You can save a bet anytime you have a weak hand that you hope will win in a showdown, and you can take the entire pot on those occasions when you are savvy enough to recognize the kind of player who will lay down a marginal hand but one that might actually be strong enough to beat yours to a bet on the river.
Here's another common betting pattern: Call, check/call, checkraise, bet. This is the hallmark of a player with a good hand. Perhaps he's flopped a set, or two pair, or even an ace to his A-K. So he checks and calls the flop, then checkraises the turn in hopes of trapping an opponent or two for a few bets. Then he continues to drive the hand by betting the river. There's nothing unusual here. You've done it yourself, and this is probably the most common betting pattern employed by players holding big hands. They quietly call the flop in hopes of getting in a checkraise on the turn; then they bet out on the river.
So how can this help you? I'll tell you how. When you see the pattern of check/call followed by a checkraise on the turn, credit your opponent with a big hand that's probably better than yours. I realize you might find some extraordinarily creative players who will checkraise-bluff every now and then, but it doesn't happen all that often in most games, and almost not at all at lower limits. So if you've found yourself the victim of a check/call, checkraise betting pattern, go ahead and throw your hand away unless you've got an extraordinarily strong hand or a draw at the right price to a better hand than your opponent is likely to be holding.
Many players are reluctant to throw away a hand to a checkraise. As a result of their stubborn nature, they lose a big bet on the turn and another on the river. And they needn't do this. After all, most of the time you are checkraised, your opponent has the better hand. And most of the time he exhibits this betting pattern you should do the smart thing. Throw your hand away. If you do, you will have saved two bets. And money saved is equal to money won. Even if you are a consistently winning player who averages one big bet in the plus column per hour, calling a checkraise when you strongly suspect you are beaten will take two hours of play to recoup. When Kenny Rogers was singing, "...you gotta know when to fold'em," that was his message.
These aren't the only betting patterns to be aware of. If you see someone play the pattern of bet or raise, fold, you've got an opponent who is sufficiently disciplined to throw away hands like a pair of jacks to an over card and action, or get rid of Big Slick when the flop is small and there's some action by other players before it is his turn to act.
Another pattern to be aware of is this one: bet, bet, check, and either check, bet, call, or raise on the river. This is the pattern of a player who takes a free card when the circumstances suit him, and if he does this enough, you can mark him as a tough, disciplined foe.
There's more to be said about betting patterns; much more, in fact. But we'll save that for another time. For those of you who have not thought much about identifying and cataloging betting patters, I hope this column serves as food for thought. If you're already familiar with betting patterns and scrutinize them whenever you play, I hope this reinforces some of your own ideas. Keep watching those betting patterns unfold the next time you play poker online. Stay aware, and stay a winner for life.
Written by Lou Krieger