The value of probe bet­ting

Los Angeles Times - - THE GUIDE - By Ed Miller Miller has writ­ten nine poker strat­egy books.

Poker be­gin­ners live in a sea of un­cer­tainty. They know what cards they have, but that’s about it. They don’t know what to ex­pect op­po­nents to have. They don’t know how to in­ter­pret bet­ting. Ev­ery pot is a guess­ing game.

This per­pet­ual un­cer­tainty can trans­late into quick losses. If you don’t know that a big river bet usu­ally means an op­po­nent can beat your top pair, you’re go­ing to give away a few stacks be­fore you fig­ure it out.

When new play­ers learn how ex­pen­sive it can be to call down with sec­ond-best hands, they’ve reached a com­mon player-de­vel­op­ment mile­stone. They re­mem­ber the times they flopped a pair and called all the way down only to be shown trips or a flush, and they try des­per­ately to avoid a re­peat. So ev­ery time they flop a mar­ginal pair, they en­deavor to “find out where they’re at” in the hand.

The most com­mon way play­ers try to do this is with probe bets. These bets are de­signed to ac­com­plish two things: First, they try to dis­rupt the nor­mal check-betcall rhythm of bet­ting. Sec­ond, they ask a spe­cific ques­tion: “I have a hand; do you?” By dis­rupt­ing the ac­tion and ask­ing a ques­tion, probe bet­tors hope to get use­ful an­swers that can save them lots of money if they’re beaten.

Here’s an ex­am­ple from a $2-$5 gameat the Aria in Las Ve­gas.

An am­a­teur tourist limped in, and I raised to $20 from three off the but­ton with Q♦ J♦ . A lo­cal am­a­teur called from the big blind, and the tourist called. There was $62 in the pot, and we had $1,000 stacks.

The flop came K♥ 7♦ 5♣ . Both play­ers checked, and I bet $30. The big blind called, and the tourist folded.

The turn was the 6 ♣ , and the big blind bet $40 into a pot of $122. Thiswas a clas­sic probe bet. The big blind had a mar­ginal pair — per­haps 10-10 or K-3— and wanted to find out cheaply if I had a bet­ter hand like K-Q or A-A.

Acou­ple of fac­tors ledme to iden­tify the bet as a probe. First, it came out of turn, af­ter a check-and-call on the flop. Such bets aren’t al­ways probes, but most play­ers with strong hands seek to dis­guise them by pre­serv­ing the nat­u­ral flow of the bet­ting. Sec­ond, it was a small bet. My flop bet was a small one it­self, but my op­po­nent bet a mere one-third of the pot. Probe bet­tors are try­ing to save money when they’re beaten, and so they tend to choose small bet sizes. I would have in­ter­preted the bet dif­fer­ently if it had been a big one like $100. A big bet would likely in­di­cate a hand two pair or bet­ter, and the pur­pose would be to pre­vent me from draw­ing cheaply. A small bet is more likely a probe.

When I see a probe bet, my strat­egy is sim­ple. I tell them what they want to hear: “You’re beaten.”

I raised my op­po­nent’s $40 bet to $180. “K-3 is no good,” my raise said. I ac­tu­ally had queen-high, but that’s ir­rel­e­vant.

The probe bettor folded, sat­is­fied to have got­ten the an­swer hewas look­ing for.

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