If you spend enough time in a live poker environment, eventually you will hear someone say, "I bet to find out where I was at." This type of statement often draws nods from other players as betting for information is widely believed to be a valid tactic. But what if checking could have just as easily provided even more information for no cost?
Hijack vs Button Sample $2/5 NLHE Hand
For example, consider the following hand: The hijack opens to $20 with AKo in a $2/5 game and only the button calls. The button preflop calling range likely looks something like this for most players:
Note that JJ-AK have been removed because the button did not 3-bet, and TT, AQo, and AJs-KQs were reduced to 50% as these hands sometimes 3-bet and someitmes call.
Misguided Betting For Information on the Flop
The flop is T-7-3 rainbow. The hijack decides, like many $2/5 players, to throw out a bet of $20 to find out "where he is at." The button calls. Does the hijack really know where he is in the hand now? Most poker players flat the button very loosely preflop and then float the flop with a wide range which can easily sow confusion for the out of position player. This leads to a flop calling range that looks something like this on this board:
If the hijack is like most players, he'll be just as lost as he was before, except that he's invested a $20 cbet for that "privilege". The hijack could have just as easily checked for information as bet for information.
The following short video explains the futility of betting for information as a primary goal:
Fear of Losing Control In Poker
Most players in the hijack's shoes fear checking because they don't want to lose control over the hand, but control in poker is often illusory to begin with. For example, even if the hijack keeps the initiative and bets, he can't control whether the button chooses to raise him, so he actually has very little control in the first place. However, the hijack could check with more confidence if he understood the button's likely responses. Let's look at the most common button ranges we'll see after the hijack checks the flop:
Hijack Checks and Button Checks Back:
Most players on the button will usually bet their sets, good top pairs, and open-enders when checked to in this spot. This means that a lot of these combinations can be removed once the button checks back. Top set might check back and trap 50% of the time, but population usually bets the other sets. They will also sometimes bet their overcards that don't contain an ace, and they will sometimes bet their gutshots, middle pair, bottom pair, and medium pairs like 88-99. Ace high usually checks back. Let's put the sometimes hands at 50%. If that's the case, the button check back range looks like this:
The button is often left with a weak, capped range after the flop is checked through. The hijack now has a lot of information about the hands the button doesn't have, and he didn't need to spend any money on the flop to receive that information. Now let's look at the other case:
The Hijack Checks and the Button Bets:
Using the same assumptions as above, the button's range looks like this:
AKo has 39% equity against this range which allows it to profitably check and call unless faced with an uncommon, large overbet. In comparison, if the hijack had bet and been called by a range of pairs, draws, and the best ace highs like AQo, the hijack would only have 30% equity after having filtered the button's range to a stronger, compressed version.
Information Presents Itself Whether You Bet or Check:
The point of this article is not to convince you to always check this flop with AKo as the hijack. It is to show you that information presents itself to you regardless of whether you bet or you check (and sometimes the information is even more valuable when you check). Therefore, betting for information should not be your primary reason for betting here.
The Correct and Primary Reasons for Betting in Poker
If that's the case, what are the primary reasons for betting? We should always come back to these two: Value and equity denial. We win in poker by getting weaker hands to call (through value bets) or getting better hands or hands with outs to beat us to fold (through equity denial). It is very often the case that if your hand does not satisfy one of those two reasons for betting, you should simply check. Betting for information is a pseudo-reason for betting. Any information that comes from betting should be a side-benefit, not the primary reason for making the bet in the first place.
Time and time again, poker players get this fundamental concept wrong. They bet for all sorts of pseudo-resaons. Tilt, fear, and confusion color most of these decisions. Ultimately, if you want to make money in poker in the long-term, you need a conscious reason for your actions at the table, especially your decision of whether to bet or check in any given hand.
PTO Poker 101 Lesson 10: Master the Reasons for Betting
If you are struggling with this skill or need more background on the theory behind it, be sure to check out this video:
For only $20, you can address one of the most common leaks in poker. It's also a leak that presents itself in almost every hand you are involved in, so understanding this concept will pay massive dividends over time.
Good luck at the tables, and the next time the action is on you, be sure to have a conscious reason for your decision rather than defaulting to betting to find out "where you're at."
If you liked the video above, be sure to check out the PTO Poker YouTube channel here. Another way to accelerate your growth as a player besides instructional videos is through personalized poker coaching. To become the player you know you can be, contact Joel Wald today at email@example.com or book a free 30-minute Zoom call to discuss how PTO Poker can help you achieve your poker goals!