Concepts: The Probe Bet
According to this definition, we are holding a hand that is neither strong enough for us to assume it is currently the best hand, nor weak enough for us to be sure that we are behind. It is therefore necessary to actively obtain information about the relative strength of our hand. We do this by betting as little as possible but as much as we need to - generally between one third and half of the pot. We will explain it in more detail later. First of all, here is an example of a classic probe bet (also called a "feeler bet"):
Example 1: We are holding in middle position. A player in front of us in middle position raises to 3.5 BBs. We call, as does the button. The blinds fold. The flop comes . There are 12 BBs in the pot. The pre-flop raiser checks. We bet 5 BBs. The button calls and the middle-position limper raises to 12 BBs. This gives us enough information and so we fold.
The attentive reader will certainly recognize at this point that it is always advantageous for our opponent to raise us, regardless of the cards he is holding, if he knows that we are making a probe bet. That is why the art of the probe bet is making it high enough so that our opponents will not identify it as a probe bet. At the same time, however, we would like to get our information as cheaply as possible. The perfect probe bet is when we manage to make it small enough that our opponent would just interpret it as a value bet. That way he can never really be sure whether we are betting for value or just to get some information. The situation is best suited for a probe bet when the pre-flop aggressor checks after the flop, the flop doesn't look that dangerous and we have a moderate hand.
Example 2: We are again holding in middle position. A player in early position raises to 3 BBs and another player in front of us in middle position calls. We call and the button and the small blind call as well. The big blind folds. The flop is . There are 16 BBs in the pot. The small blind checks as do the pre-flop raiser and the MP caller. Should we make a probe bet?
No. This is a dangerous situation. There is a good chance that an early position raiser could be holding an ace with a good kicker or a pocket pair that is higher than ours. Besides that, there are three other players that have called the pre-flop raise and could very likely also be holding an ace in their hand. If one of our opponents is holding an ace, we only have two outs and even these are uncertain as a nine would make a straight possible and the could even complete a flush draw. All in all, we are better off playing check/fold here.
A probe bet in later betting rounds
A probe bet doesn't have to be made on the flop. If we are "out of position" and check with a moderately strong hand on the flop and the pre-flop aggressor checks behind, we could make a probe bet if a safe card appears on the turn. We could also make a probe bet in a situation like this: The pre-flop aggressor bets on the flop, we call with a moderately strong hand because we are fairly sure he is making a continuation bet [link] and that he will check when a safe card comes on the turn.
It is important to be able to distinguish between the different strategies and bets. When a poker player bets, he should always know why he is betting and why he is betting precisely this or that amount. It is not enough to have a vague feeling that the situation would be suitable for a bet. Players who act in this way often have no idea how they want to play their hand in the later rounds of betting. They will more or less just wait and see how their opponents will react and only then start thinking about what these reactions could mean.
A serious poker player will however try to assess each situation as accurately as possible and to use this assessment to decide how to continue the hand. This is why it's important to differentiate the probe bet from other similar strategies.
Probe bet vs. Value bet
The player making a probe bet wants to find out where he stands, while the player making a value bet is already convinced that he is holding the best hand. This distinction can be rather fluid and also depends on the types of players at the table.
Probe bet vs. Continuation bet
Although these two strategies are often very similar, there is a major difference between the probe bet and the continuation bet. Generally, the only time we make a continuation bet is when we were the pre-flop aggressor. In contrast, the probe bet does not depend on pre-flop action and the purpose of this bet is to find out how strong our opponents' hands are. When our continuation bet is called or raised, we only continue playing if we have a strong hand. When our probe bet is called, however, it is certainly possible that we are still holding the best hand. But if draws arrive with the next community card, it makes sense to check the hand down or to play check-fold.
Probe bet vs. Block bet
What the probe bet and the block bet have in common is that they should both be as small as possible but as high as necessary. The difference between these bets is the goal that the player is trying to achieve. We make a block bet when we want to see the next card cheaply so that we can get a call for the price we set ourselves. In this case, our opponent's hand is not very important. The specific purpose of the probe bet, however, is to find out which hand our opponent is holding.
The borderline between the probe bet and the value bet
The biggest difference between the value bet and the probe bet is that we make a value bet when we want a call and a probe bet when we actually expect a fold or a raise. If our opponent folds, we take down the pot immediately which is exactly what we want if we are holding a marginal hand. If our opponent raises, we can simply give up the hand. We don't want a call when we make a probe bet because that doesn't tell us any more than we already knew before. Our opponent could be holding anything from a monster to a draw.
We make a probe bet when we are holding a moderately strong hand, there is either no pre-flop aggressor or he has missed his chance to bet, and we want to find out where we stand because we won't get any useful information by checking.
We should not make a probe bet if:
• our hand is very strong
• our hand is very weak
• one or more scare cards are on the board and there is a multiway pot
• we are holding a drawing hand and are last to act
• we have a very loose image at the table or were recently caught bluffing.