Stud Poker Strategy: The Auto-Bet
I've noticed one quality among stud players that stands out more than any other. We tend to be old.
There's nothing wrong with that. Think wisdom and experience; we tend to have them in spades. But we also tend to have some deficiencies.
One of our negative tendencies is that we tend to fall into habitual modes of play. We have been playing poker in a certain way for so long that we tend to do things repetitively. Specifically, I've noticed that many stud players, of all levels from $1/3 to $20/40, tend to do something that I call the "auto bet". If you do it, you should stop it (or use it only for disguise). If you notice it in others you can exploit it. Here's what it is.
An auto-bet is a bet made in the mind of the bettor before it is his turn to bet. He decides to make it regardless of what card hits him on the next street. So, for example, in a $20/40 game, if I am betting an unpaired, exposed Ace on third street as an ante steal and decide that, come what may, I will continue to bet that lone Ace on fourth street — and then, even before the card that hits me has had a chance to stop moving I am already out there with my $20 bet — that is an auto-bet.
An auto-bet is the kind of bet you make when you want to signal that you are betting a hand until the river so your opponent better watch out.
An auto-bet is made so quickly that neither you nor your opponent has had an opportunity to take into consideration the card that just hit you.
The auto-bet shouldn't be confused with the blind bet. The blind bet is made before the river. The blind bet says, in essence, that you already have a made hand and that you are so strong on sixth street that you are confident you will win in a showdown even without getting your last card. An auto-bet is made on fourth, fifth or sixth street as you are getting your upcard. It is also a confident-appearing bet, but it doesn't presume to mean that the bettor has a made hand – only a hand that must be bet.
The old adage "weak means strong, strong means weak" generally applies to the auto-bet. It is generally, though surely not always, a sign of weakness. I've noticed it frequently when a player has an Ace up card but not a pair of Aces. He often has a wired pair. His gesture of firing in the fourth-street bet just as his card arrives acts strong but really isn't.
There are generally two counterstrategies that I've found effective. One is to raise the auto-bettor as soon as he makes his bet – generally on fourth street. If your image is that of a tight/aggressive player, as mine is, this move will usually cause your auto-bettor to pause, check his down cards, and then meekly call your raise. He usually doesn't have the self-control or temerity to fold. You will usually get him to fold by betting when he checks on fifth street.
The other strategy is for you to call along until fifth street, at which point you will raise. This raise, when the limits double, will often cause an auto-bettor to release his hand. He often wants to fold, since he is weak. But he doesn't want to lose face by folding on the same street as his initial bet. He doesn't want his bluffing or overplaying to be rubbed in his face. But on the next street, when you bet, he can say to himself that you must have hit some miracle card and that he can fold with dignity.
It has the added advantage of winning you an extra small bet over the prior strategy. (The check-raise wins you one extra small bet if your opponent folds to your bet on fifth. The check-raise on fifth street wins you only one small bet on fourth but also his large bet on fifth. That's three small bets in the latter example versus two small bets in the former.)
You should generally avoid so transparent a ploy as an auto-bet. As a general rule of thumb, give yourself a second or two, at least, to observe the cards and think about your best action. There is no extra credit for making the right move as quickly as possible. And these types of bets rarely impress any but the most fearful beginner. Take a moment and think in order to make sure you are getting it right.
Even so, the auto-bet can be a useful ploy against your more observant and skilled opponents. They will often interpret it as you will – strong meaning weak. So make this bet when you really are loaded and let them come over the top either on fourth or fifth street. Do this when you have the pair of Aces or when the fourth- or fifth-street card gives you trips or two pair. Let your call of their raise seduce them into thinking you're really weak but unable to fold. And then check-raise them on sixth street.
When it comes to defending against or using the auto-bet there's really nothing automatic about it.