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Down Betting in Poker

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Today I want to talk to you about down betting. First of all a brief definition: down betting is when you bet a smaller amount on a later street than you did on an earlier one. For example, if you’re in a $2/$5 game and you raised $20 preflop and then you bet $15 on the flop, the $15 bet would be a down bet.

Historically speaking, this was considered a beginner’s bet size. The general rule of thumb is that most bets should be between half the size of the pot and the full size of the pot. So let’s say you raised to $20 preflop and the button called. Including the blinds, there is now $47 in the pot. Back in the day, most people would continuation bet around $35. But now you see a lot of players throwing out $15, which is about a third of the pot.

Why Down Betting Started

So what changed? Well, it was the solvers that first had the idea to down bet. There are some plays that nobody ever thought much of until solvers came along. The same thing has happened recently in the chess world, where “solvers” have been turned loose on the game with no actual programming beyond the rules of the game itself. And it turned out that chess masters were prejudiced against some moves just because nobody else was doing those moves. So, they never considered them. And no one ever thought to put their pawn here or their knight there until the solvers started doing it.

The same thing applies to down betting. A long time ago somebody decided a proper bet should be about ½ the size of the pot or more, and anything less than that was weak. And that was that.

Without going too deeply into the math, if you bet $35 in this example, as the preflop raiser you can only do this with about 60% of your range. So now you’ve got to figure out what will be your value hands, what will be your semi-bluff hands, and what hands you’re going to check. And hopefully, it makes sense that the more dollars you bet, the fewer hands in your range you can bet. Suppose instead you bet $50 on the flop, which would basically be the size of the pot. Maybe then you could only bet a total of 40% of all your hands, and you’d have to check the other 60%. And if you decide to bet $100 on the flop, which would be excessive, you might only be able to do that with 25% of all your hands, and you’d have to check the other 75%.

ALSO FROM STEVE BLAY: Five Times the Pot All-In Rule

Well, the solvers decided to take this in the opposite direction and realized that on a good number of flops, the preflop raiser has a range advantage on the caller and can take full advantage of this by betting pretty much 100% of his range for about a third of the pot. And this does put the caller in an awkward spot. Because the bet size is so small, he can’t fold very often. Yet there are a lot of hands in his range that completely missed.

Suppose the flop in the example above was Q♣-7-4. Now this definitely favors the preflop raiser. He’s got pocket aces, pocket kings, pocket Queens, or maybe Ace Queen. Basically, he has a lot of hands that the button caller probably doesn’t have in his range. The caller has some top pair hands, some mediocre hands like A7 or A4, some small pocket pairs, 65 for a straight draw, and then gutshots and other junk that completely missed this flop. Now the $15 bet targets all that junk.

Should You Down Bet?

So everybody is down betting these days and it’s kind of the cool thing to do. Yet I have to warn you that I often think it’s an excuse for passive betting. One of the problems with the down bet at low stakes is that there are a lot of players who call flop bets with a lot of garbage. Well, if you’ve got a good hand, don’t you want to charge them more than $15 for that? And if you miss the flop, do you even want to waste $15 when you know they’re going to call?

Let’s say you’re facing a really loose passive opponent on this flop. You have A-Q so you flop top-top. Your opponent will call with all the hands I mentioned before (middle pairs, gutshots, etc), most of which have no more than four or five outs to beat you. And they want to see the turn card and are fairly indifferent to how much you bet. So should you “down bet” $15, or bet $35? Obviously, the latter.

And if you hold A♠-K♠ on this flop, and your opponent calls almost no matter what, is it really worth spending $15 just to say that you made a “down bet”? Or do you just check to the passive opponent who might let you see the next card for free. I think the choice is clear. Save your chips.

Be sure to recognize down betting for what it is, a useful tactic to be unexploitable, especially against better opposition. It puts good players in an awkward spot because they don’t want to fold too often, but they also don’t want to continue to the turn with garbage.

But the real way to make money in poker has not changed since poker was invented. Namely, play against bad players, put more money in the pot when you think you’re ahead, and put less money in the pot when you’re probably behind. Elementary, my dear Watson. (I’ve been told Sherlock Holmes never actually said that, but hey, you get the point!)

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Steve Blay

Steve Blay is a poker author, inventor, and the founder of Advanced Poker Training.

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