I recently wrote a post about how to get started in poker by learning the hand rankings. In that post, I suggested that hand rankings are the first thing you should learn. The second most important thing you should learn is how betting works in poker.
I’ve seen poker writers as clever as Mike Caro claim that you don’t even need cards or hand rankings to play poker, you just need a clearly defined betting structure.
This means that betting is more important to the nature of the game of poker than any other aspect of the game. In this post, I provide details and observations about how betting works in poker.
The Most Important Thing to Remember About Betting in Poker
Wait until it’s your turn to bet before acting.
If you try to bet before it’s your turn, you reveal information to your opponents that they can use to modify their actions.
If you fold (drop out of a hand when it’s not your turn), you’re revealing information about how many players will be in the pot.
Also, it’s customary to announce your action. Once you’ve done so, you’re committed to that action. Clever players looking for an advantage might watch their opponents’ reactions to their announcement and change their decision if this rule of etiquette weren’t in place.
Your Betting Options in a Poker Game
You only have five betting options to choose from. I explain each of them below.
- You can check – Until someone makes a bet, you can stay in the hand without betting any money at all. This is called “checking.”
- You can fold – This means you don’t have to put money into the pot, but you also forfeit all rights to continue in the hand. Any money you’ve already bet and put into the pot is now forfeit, too.
- You can bet – If you’re the first person in the round to make a bet, you’re “betting.” Once someone has placed a bet, the other players must call, fold, or raise.
- You can call – This means that someone else has bet, and you’re going to put that amount of money into the pot and stay in the hand to see who the winner will be, unless you change your mind in a later betting round and fold.
- You can raise – If someone before you has bet, you can raise them to increase the size of the bet. When it’s the bettor’s turn again, he can fold, call your raise, or re-raise.
Forced Bets – Antes and Blinds
I’ve never played in a poker game without some kind of forced bet. This is a bet you must make if you want to get cards. Forced bets happen in one of two ways:
An ante is a bet you’re required to place before getting a hand. You must place an ante bet on every hand in a game with antes. The size of the ante is usually small compared to the size of the bets and raises in the game, but it’s big enough to prevent you from folding until you get the best possible hand.
A blind is the same as an ante, but instead of being placed every hand, the blind rotates around the table. You only need to place the blind when it’s your turn to do so.
In games with blinds, you usually have two players who have to place blind bets. One of these is the small blind, and the other is the big blind. The small blind is usually half the size of the big blind.
In games like Draw Poker and Stud Poker, it’s customary to use an ante. In games like Texas holdem and Omaha, it’s customary to use blinds.
In some community card games, especially tournaments, you’ll often see blinds AND antes, especially in later rounds of the tournament.
Rounds of Betting
In almost every variation of poker I’ve ever played, you had multiple rounds of betting, at least two, but usually more.
The most basic type of poker is Five-Card Draw poker. It usually has just two betting rounds. You place your ante bet before getting your cards, creating a pot.
Then, you get your five face-down cards. Once you’ve seen the cards, you get to engage in the betting round. Afterward, there’s a drawing phase, where you discard some cards and get new ones.
After you’ve seen your final hand, there’s another round of betting. Following that second round of betting, there’s a showdown if multiple players are still in the pot. That’s when you compare the hands of the players still in the pot to see who wins the money.
In Texas holdem, you have even more betting rounds.
Then, there’s a betting round on the turn, that’s the one community card that gets revealed after the flop. There’s a final betting round after the river, which is the final community card. So, in Texas holdem, you have four betting rounds.
Betting Sizes and Limits
Before you start playing in a poker game, you find out what stakes you’re playing for. This means that you know how big the antes and/or blinds are before sitting down to play. You also know the appropriate sizing of the bets during the other stages of the game.
I’ll give some examples from common poker games below.
Limit Texas holdem is a Texas holdem game where the betting ranges are narrowly defined. You’ll see the minimum bet for the first two rounds of betting as the first number, and the minimum bet for the next two rounds as the second number.
For example, if you’re playing in a $5/$10 limit game, your bets must be in increments of $5 after the hole cards and the flop, and in increments of $10 after the turn and the river.
The big blind in such a game is usually the same size as the lower bet, so the big blind would be $5 in this game. The small blind is usually roughly half the size of the big blind. It would be common to see a small blind of $2 or $3 in this situation.
But Texas holdem can also be played as “pot limit” or “no limit.” In these games, the two numbers before the game will indicate the sizes of the blinds. For example, a $1/$2 pot limit or no limit game would have blinds sizes of $1 and $2.
Then, in a pot limit game, you can bet and/or raise up to the size of the pot, including how much money would be in the pot if you just called the previous bet. Pots can get really large in pot limit poker faster than you’d think.
In no limit holdem, you can bet or raise all the chips you have in front of you at the table. But the bets and raises also have to be in those increments.
Also, one thing that people who watch a lot of television might misunderstand is that you don’t have to come up with the deed to your house or the title to your car if you can’t cover the other guy’s bet or raise. You only have to risk the money in front of you. Just remember to protect your casino bankroll.
In the event that he has more chips than you, he only risks what you have in front of you. If there are multiple players in a pot, that might mean having a side pot or two.
Understanding how betting works in poker is critical to your development from a beginner to an intermediate player.
In the space of a single blog post, it’s hard to cover everything you might need to know about betting in poker, but this provided as good an introduction as I think you’ll find online.
Did you learn something new about how betting works in poker here? Did I leave something out or make a mistake?