Should You Bet Hard With a Medium-Strength Poker Hand?

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BetMGM Nov 03, 2023, 12:15 AM

At low-stakes poker tables, a popular strategy consists of flopping a medium-strength hand (for example, a middle pair), only to bet really big in an attempt to take the pot down.

Betting a medium-strength hand out of position on the river can also be seen as a bad idea. While you can win money with this poker strategy, the truth is that you can also lose a lot of money if you get a weak read on your opponent. 

Read this guide to playing medium-strength hands in poker and discover how you should be betting with these hands. 

Medium-Strength Hands and Equity

One way to measure poker hand strength is by working out a hand’s raw equity, that is, the probability that the hand will win if it goes to showdown. In a nine-handed game, like those in online poker tournaments, you will, on average, be dealt hands with equity 1/9th of the pot. 

Hands with high equity are good as the expected value (EV) of these hands will exceed their equity. Low-equity hands are good, too, in the sense that it’s easy to exceed their raw equity. You can take a hand with 0% equity and bluff with it.

The trouble with bluffing medium-strength hands is that you eat up the equity that they have. You should rather play your medium-strength hands passively and try to get to showdown as cheaply as possible.

Betting or Bluffing: Different Poker Hands

Only hands that beat medium-strength hands call, and if the opponent folds, you could just as well have bluffed them with a zero-equity hand. Players need to understand what (limited) equity exists in different types of poker hands. Four of these hands are discussed here. 

1. Premium Made Hands

These are the hands with high hand strength in poker that you’d happily play for stacks. Sometimes, your opponents will put the money in for you, but often, you need to put the money in yourself. That is, you need to bet. 

2. Marginal Made Hands

These are your medium-strength or middle-paired hands. They should be played passively. You can easily play them as a semi-bluff, but assuming they’re only called by stronger hands, you generally only have about five outs to improve the hand — that is to say, you can improve to two pair or trips.

Straight or flush draws are better candidates, with eight or nine outs respectively.

3. Draws

These hands are good candidates for playing aggressively as a semi-bluff. They don’t have much value in their current state, so when you bet, raise, or check-raise, and opponents fold, it’s a favorable outcome, even if you still have some outs when opponents call. 

Good players may even bet the junk draws harder than the good draws. You’re “cannibalizing” less equity to bluff a gut-shot straight, for example, than to bluff a flush-straight combo draw, so this strategy makes sense.

4. Junk

A solver will always be perfectly balanced, and in cases where it needs to “find” bluffs, it will bluff the junk, too. 

That said, multi-way pots encourage more honest play, and there aren’t many situations in which it makes sense to bet a junk hand without even backdoor potential to improve the hand.

Reasons To Bet on the River

Ultimately, you need to perfect your personal river strategy when you play poker online, using common sense and rationale and taking into account the information you’ve gathered on your opponents.

There are only two real reasons to bet on the river. The first is to force an opponent off the hand with what is effectively a bluff if you think that you can get them to fold. 

The second is to bet for value because you’re confident that you have the best hand. If there is any doubt about either of these, then a river bet may just be a bad play, and it would be wise to back out early to avoid a bigger loss.

A Final Say on Medium-Strength Hands

Medium-strength hands, especially when out of position, often perform below their equity. When opponents bet and you call, they either have the best or nothing, while you’re left with bluff-catcher hands. 

In the best-case scenario, these hands have an EV of zero, which will make you indifferent about calling or folding. Granted, this is not an enviable position to be in, but you may end up losing even more money by trying to bet these hands hard from the flop. 

Practice Your River Strategy With BetMGM

Medium-strength hands are uncomfortable to play, and it may be tempting to turn them into bluffs. Unless your player pool rewards aggressive play, it’s best to play them passively. Test out this new poker strategy when you register with BetMGM for popular online poker games like Texas Hold’em online.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.