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Without betting, poker would be a game of luck and the best hand would always win. It would be pretty boring too - about as exciting as flipping coins. Betting is the key to poker. Remember, poker is a game of money played with cards: Maximizing wins with your good hands while minimizing losses when you're beaten is what poker's all about.

- In fixed-limit games, the most common type online, bets and raises are made in tiered, predetermined amounts. In fixed-limit Omaha and Texas hold'em games, bets double on the last two betting rounds. If you're playing a $4-$8 game, the first two rounds of betting are based on four-dollar increments, while the last two rounds are based on eight- dollar limits. In stud games, betting doubles on the third betting round, when you have five cards in front of you. Poker players call this round "Fifth Street." It's a term you'll hear a lot, so you might as well learn it now.

- In spread-limit games, bettors can wager any amount within given limits. If the limits are $2-$10, bets can be made at any amount of even dollar increments at any time, as long as a raise is at least equal to the bet or rise that preceded it.

- Many games and tournaments online are played pot-limit. In them bets or raises are limited only by the amount of money in the pot when it's time to act. Beginners, be warned: This can be a big game! A player who rises may count his call as part of the pot. So if the pot contains $20 and someone wagers $20, a raiser may match that $20 bet - thus making the total pot $60 - and raise another $60. When the raiser is done, he'll have tossed $80 into the pot, making the total amount of money in the pot $120.

- In no-limit games, a player may bet or raise any amount of chips in his stack at any time. This games structure is very popular for Internet tournaments, and there are some no-limit cash games online as well. This is a game with no brakes, so when played for cash, it's not for beginners. That said, in either pot-limit or no-limit games, the amount you have on the table is the most you can lose in any one hand. If you have just ten dollars in chips, that's the most you can lose unless you buy more.

Pumping the Pot versus Lying in the Weeds

Bet your playable hands, particularly when you think you have the best hand: You should try to drive out players who may beat you if you allow them to draw for free. Unless you're holding a monster, the best play with a good hand is usually to bet: Discourage the opposition from taking shots at cards that might beat you! On the other hand, with really big hands, give your opponents a chance to catch up a little. Don't push the early betting. You want adversaries to improve just enough to pursue the hand, so you can take even more money from them.

But what about times when you're not in the lead? When you have a drawing hand instead, a "wannabe hand" that makes you long to see the next card as inexpensively as possible? That's the time to check, hoping your opponent will, too. If he checks, he's given you infinite odds to chase him down and beat him. As long as it costs you nothing to try and improve your hand, why not stick around to get lucky? When there's no cost involved, no long shot is too long a shot to play!

All of this applies when there are more cards to come, when hands have potential for improvement. Once all the cards have been dealt, betting won't win you the pot by making it too expensive for your opponent to see another card. There are no other cards to come, and the winning hand has already been dealt.

You can bet on the end as long as you think you'll have the best hand if you're called. That's important. If you bet and your opponent hasn't improved his draw, he'll fold. Your bet on the river won't garner one additional cent. But if he calls, he's got some sort of hand. So you shouldn't bet unless you believe your hand will be the best hand most of the time it's called.

If you check and your opponent bets, he could have a good hand - or he might be bluffing. If you've got a decent hand, you'll call him, or even raise if your hand is huge. (However, an attempt to check and then raise can be risky and cost you a bet. Unless you're quite sure your opponent will bet if you check to him, it's best to just go ahead and bet.) In any event, whenever you win a pot in this manner, you'll win at least one additional bet because your check induced an adversary to bet. If you bet and he folds, you won't capture that last wager.

Scooping in Split-Pot games

In split-pot games, like Omaha/8 and 7-stud/8, your goal is to win, or "scoop," the entire pot - not just part of it. Therefore: seek hands offering an opportunity to make the best high and the best low. Don't get trapped in situations where you can win just half the pot, and then only if you get lucky. That's not to say you should never play hands that can win in only one direction. After all, you might flop the best possible fl1sh, a full house, or even four-of-a-kind in a hand with a bunch of opponents. Even if you split the pot with a low hand, you'll make money.

But most of the time you won't be lucky enough to flop a good hand. In fact, much of the time you won't flop a real hand at all - you'll be drawing instead. Maybe it's a draw to the best possible straight or flush, or maybe you've flopped a big set and need the board to pair. If there's a pesky flush or straight draw that always seems to get there when you're in the pot, you'll need a higher flush or straight, or even a full house, to show down the best hand.

In such situations, you need to compare pot odds to the odds against making your hand. Then you can decide whether to continue playing. Although you don't have the best hand at this juncture, there's a silver lining in that cloud, and here it is: If you fail to make your hand and don't improve, you're certainly not going to call at showdown. Since you're going to save that last bet whenever you miss your hand, you're actually getting slightly better pot odds than any player with a made hand who's planning to bet on the river.

If you're playing Omaha high, these are simple issues - the very same ones you face playing Texas hold'em. After all, if the pot is offering four dollars for each dollar you have to wager, and the odds against making your hand are only 2-to-1, you're going to chase that hand every time. But what if you're playing Omaha/8 and figure to win only half the pot if you make your hand?

Suppose you can win a total of $500 for calling a $100 wager. That's a net profit of $400 (a total pot of five hundred dollars minus the $100 you invested by calling) and it's a good call if the odds against making your hand are only 2-to-1 or 3-to-1. But what if you're in an Omaha/8 games and figure to win only half the pot? When that happens, the dealer will push $250 dollars in your direction if you make the hand you are hoping for. And - Ugh! - What if you don't?

But let's say you win half the pot. While the size of your win was just cut in half, the odds against making your hand remained the same, and the cost to draw for half the pot was still $100, which was identical to the cost of drawing for the entire thing. Now your profit on that hand has been reduced from $400 to $150 (you'll receive a total of $250 for the same $100 investment, so your net profit now is only $150).

The odds have changed dramatically, since you've changed one side of the equation but not the other. Your profit has gone down considerably.   Yet your costs have stayed the same.

You'll see numerous instances in Omaha/8 and 7-stud/8 of opponents drawing for half the pot - when the payoff doesn't even come close to offsetting the odds against making their hand. In the long run, plays like these destroy bankrolls, one bet at a time. Let them be someone else's plays, not yours!

In Omaha/8 and 7-stud/8, scooping is the main strategic objective. While you won't scoop often, it's important to play hands that can scoop. Anytime you can play a hand offering a sure win of half the pot plus an opportunity - regardless of how long the odds may be against it - of winning the rest of the pot, too, you've got a fortunate situation. You've got a lock on half of the pot, and get to "free roll" for the other half. Whenever you can draw to the remainder of the pot at no cost this way, you're getting infinite odds for your investment. You just can't lose on bets like that!

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