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Did You Know This About Poker?

Dec. 13 is DYK Day. That stands for Did You Know Day, so named in an almost forgotten resolution that passed both houses of Congress in 1940. The idea was that Americans could learn a great deal about many things if their fellow citizens shared their knowledge.

Ideally, everybody who was knowledgeable in some field or who had a hobby would pledge to walk up to complete strangers at least twice on this day and offer some fact of interest. Each fact would begin with the words, "Did you know" The use of those exact words was very important, because — as you know — it is otherwise rude to suddenly get in the face of someone you don’t know and start talking seriously about an important fact. "Did you know" was intended to put the person thusly assaulted at ease. The assaulted person would know that the intrusion was sanctioned by Congress.

Well, the concept lost favor after the first year and hasn’t really been popular since. Criminals used the opportunity to put their victims at ease by pretending to be offering a tidbit of knowledge. Beggars tended to irritate everyone everywhere with their, "Did you know I haven’t had a good meal in two days?" and "Did you know I could use a dime for a cup of coffee?"

Crime soared on the first DYK day. In Cleveland, five armed men crashed through a bank door and their leader shouted, "Did you know we’re going to blow your brains out if you don’t give us all your money?" While this might have been an unusual incident, the fact that it was seen in headlines nationwide tended to make the whole DYK Day concept less popular. It was not revived the next year, although it remains on the books as an unofficial holiday.

So, let’s play DYK.

Did you know that you can lose a pot by betting? When you journey beyond the basics of poker, you start to think about strategy more intricately. You realize that by not betting hands in key situations, you cannot only cost yourself extra money, you can sometimes cost yourself the whole pot.

Sometimes, on an early betting round, you check and the player behind you checks. On the very next card, that player connects for an inside straight. It’s a tragedy for you, but one that you would have avoided had you bet. That opponent likely would not have called a bet in an attempt to make an inside straight. He wouldn’t have been around to receive the card that brought you misery. So, in that case, betting would have saved the pot.

The most obvious event in which betting wins an entire pot is a bluff. That’s what a bluff is all about, right? You’re probably going to lose in a showdown, so you bet and hope that your opponent doesn’t call. If that happens, you win. Again, an entire pot has been won by betting.

What if you have a medium-strength hand and you figure that your opponent does, also? So, there you sit on the last betting round, holding a hand that seemingly is not quite strong enough to bet or maybe even to call with if you check and your opponent bets. You might win in a showdown, but you might not. Now what? Now, you should often consider betting. Notice that I said consider betting. It isn’t automatic that you should bet, and — in fact — you probably don’t want to bet most of the time. But sometimes, you should make a daring bet in this situation.

Why should you bet? You should bet because, although you don’t have an advantage in strength — which is the most common reason to wager — you have your opponent trapped in a situation in which he may not call. It takes the right kind of opponent to justify this bet, and it takes the right kind of action leading up to the bet. Often, the bet is a good idea if your opponent is in an analytical mode, off tilt, and has reason to suspect that your hand may be strong.

If he perceives the situation the same way that you do — that you’re both holding about the same strength hand, the bet will be futile because he will just call and hope to win. The pot will overwhelm the size of your bet and, therefore, he will be gaining much more if he calls and wins than the cost of a losing call. In limit poker, the pot odds dictate that you usually should call with any reasonable hope of winning.

Fine. But if this opponent has reason to believe that you probably have the best hand, he may fold a hand that would have won in the showdown. That sometimes makes your bet worthwhile. It can be much better to risk, say, a $20 bet into a $100 pot if it means that your opponent sometimes will fold than to just see the showdown and hope. Even when your opponent calls, you still have an excellent chance of winning.

Your chance of winning in this bet-call showdown isn’t quite as good as it would be in a check-check showdown, however. That’s because, presumably, your opponent will tend to fold the hands at the lower end of the spectrum of possibilities and call with the hands at the higher end.

Let’s say that by betting and being called, you win only 40 percent of your showdowns, but by checking, you win 50 percent. That sacrifice still might be worthwhile if your bet occasionally causes your opponent to throw away the superior hand. Another thing that’s good about betting is that you sometimes can make extra money. If you do have the best hand and your opponent does call, that’s an extra bet that you would not have earned had you checked.

It gets more complicated. The analysis gets even more involved than this, and there are other powerful reasons why betting is sometimes the best choice on the final round when you think that you have about a fifty-fifty chance of holding the better hand. You should even consider betting hands that have less than a fifty-fifty chance of winning in a showdown — and I’m not talking about bluffing. The fact is, you don’t know if you’re bluffing, so you’re betting for a different reason — or a combination of reasons.

There is another risk of not betting. If you check, your opponent might bet and you might not call. This should not usually happen, because if you have a borderline betting hand, you should almost always be willing to call in limit poker. The size of the pot so dictates. But, in actual games, many players check the weaker portion of their medium-range hands and then fail to call. That could be a disaster, and another reason — if you’re so inclined to make the mistake — to simply bet rather than check.

In spite of all of this, I believe that many experienced players bet too often in some key situations. There are many advantages to checking, but that’s beyond the scope of what I want to discuss today.

Returning to the DYK question. I think you’re convinced by now that betting in some marginal situations can be profitable. OK. But that wasn’t the key question for DYK Day. Remember that the question was: "Did you know that you can lose a pot by betting?"

How? I’ll tell you how. When you make the kind of daring bets that I’ve just described, you’d better make sure that you’re against a predictable player. That sort of aggressive betting with fifty-fifty or worse hands only tends to work in the long run against players who are not especially deceptive.

If you bet a somewhat worse than average hand into a deceptive opponent, you may be met with an unexpected raise — one that you might not call. Again and again, this aggressive bet backfires against deceptive foes. If you check and they check, you might win the showdown. In fact, let’s say that you have substantially worse than an average hand for the situation. You check. Your opponent holds a truly miserable hand and decides not to bet. You win the showdown.

But what if he’s a deceptive opponent. You think that both of you are weak. You bet that same substantially worse than average hand, hoping to drive out a hand that might be better than yours. The deceptive player raises. You fold. You’ve lost the entire pot by betting, and this happens quite regularly when certain types of opponents collide. It’s in the chemistry.

To take this concept further, there’s a danger in bluffing when both you and your opponent are very weak. You won’t be able to justify a call if raised, and you might win the showdown if you check and your opponent doesn’t bet. But, you’re saying, if the opponent is apt to raise, isn’t he also likely to bluff if I check to him? Probably, but not always.

The more deceptive this opponent is, the more likely he is to raise with nothing when you wager your weak hand, but that doesn’t mean that he will bluff just as often. There are some situations in which knowledgeable deceptive opponents fear that you’ll call in an obvious bluffing situation — after they’ve been checked to. Still, if you bet, they think that you might be bluffing or weak. They figure that their raise might secure the pot, and they’ll try it. This happens more often than you might suspect in the bigger-limit games against sophisticated opponents.

I’m not saying that in general, you will lose more pots by betting than by checking. I’m just saying that it’s something you need to consider. Betting can win you an entire pot sometimes — and sometimes it can lose you an entire pot. Think about it.

Additional information about DYK Day. Did you know that, historically speaking, DYK Day is not real? I made it up — but I like the concept.




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