Poker Articles

Protection Betting

It seems like protection bets are quite simple. You think you have the best hand and you bet or raise. Unfortunately it's not that simple. The Key in NL Holdem poker is the control a player has over bet sizing. This allows the player to manipulate the math of the situation and thereby has the control over this situation in a way that other versions of poker don't allow.

So how do we size protection bets in poker and why? Lets assume that the fish always calls. This means that your protection bet always fails.

Example: You have a pair of 44 and your opponent probably has some donkey hand. The betting action pre-flop thins the field to heads up and you're out of position to your opponent. The flop comes 3h 4h 9c. We have made middle set. But there are flush, straight and even a straight flush draws out there. You'll have to consider your protection bet options.

1 If you do a count of the pot you'll find there is $100 there.
2 Your and your opponent's stack both have $300 in chips.
3 Considering your opponent is a donkey, you can't know what this crazy person could be holding. This is important, protection bets are not about playing psychic poker, they are all about changing the odds of the situation.

Let's consider some different bet sizes for our protection bet.

$20 Protection Bet

A protection bet of $20, very weak, gives your opponent the right odds to call and draw for a huge range of hands. your opponent will be given a 6 : 1 proposition to call. That is, on a flush or open ended straight draw, your opponent has positive EV in calling. The only draw that would be a mistake is the gut shot, which has a 11 : 1 chance of hitting on the turn. Important point is that we are giving a chance for your opponent to make a mathematically correct decision.

$50 Protection Bet

More standard, we make a half-pot sized protection bet. now your opponent will be facing a 3 : 1 proposition to call. If he has a flush draw, his real odds are 4.2 : 1 to make it by the turn. If your opponent has an open ended straight draw, his real odds are 4.9 : 1 to make it by the turn. In both cases, even if he does call, the important thing is that fishing for those draw cards becomes a mathematically incorrect decision.

And what about implied odds? What if a tell on our side gave away that we were holding a big hand. The opponent considers it even though the pot odds are incorrect to call, the implied odds he is getting is actually $400 : $50 or 8 : 1 The pot of $150 + our remaining stack $250 : the call $50. This gives the opponent positive implied odds, which makes it correct to call. The opponent has been bluffing a lot of pots from us and thinks that we probably won't be able to lay down trips even if the straight or flush hits on the turn. So regardless of the pot odds and considering positive implied odds the opponent is mathematically correct to call if he is on a flush or straight draw.

$100 Protection Bet

Let's make a pot sized protection bet of $100. Any bet above $50 will give the opponent negative pot odds. The $100 bet has changed the implied odds, the opponent is now getting $400 : $100 or 4 : 1. Our opponent is now getting negative implied odds on both the flush and straight draw. Important point is that your opponent has only one mathematically correct decision, fold. To call and chase is mathematically wrong.

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