The first time you enter a casino or a poker room, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the atmosphere as it is. These are so many things you need to consider that it can even become a bit overwhelming.
It’s quite an experience for sure, but live games come with their own set of rules that you should have some understanding of before you sit down to play.
Even if you have some experiencing playing online, live poker is a different beast entirely. Online poker rooms have done their best to make things as simple as possible for the players, and some of the mistakes you’ll encounter at the live felt aren’t even possible in the online environment.
For example, when you want to bet online, you type in the amount or use the slider to get to the number you want. You can go back and forth as much as you like – until you press the ‘bet’ button, your action isn’t binding.
Live games are played with actual chips and cards, and there is no mouse or number keypad to use.
When you want to make a bet, you’ll need to do so using chips that are in front of you, and you need to do it correctly. If you don’t, you’re running the risk of making what’s known as a string bet, and this is something you want to avoid.
What Makes Your Wager a String Bet?
Many people have certain ideas about live poker that they acquired from watching movies. But blockbusters aren’t known for their accurate representation of facts, and this is especially true for most poker-themed movies.
I’m sure you’ve seen a number of films where the villain makes their bet or raise slowly throwing their chips in the middle one at a time without saying a single word. Their opponent sits patiently across the table and waits for some unclear signal that should indicate the villain is finally done betting.
Let’s make it very clear – this won’t fly in any casino on the planet.
Images from Pixabay
The scenario described above is one of the best examples of string betting, and string bets aren’t allowed in real poker games. It’s that simple.
If you’re still unclear about what is a string bet, the answer is hidden in the name.
Sting betting means arbitrarily adding more chips onto your original bet.
For example, you want to bet $100 on the flop and start your bet by throwing out a single $25 chip. Then you “string” another $25 chip, followed by two more.
In your mind, you’re betting $100, but for the dealer and the rest of the table, your bet is just $25.
Most casinos and poker rooms employ the rule where you can only make your bets in a single motion (if you don’t verbally declare your intentions). So, you can slide a single $25 chip or a full stack of greens forward – or anything in-between.
That bet will play in full. Anything that comes after it is a string bet and won’t count towards your bet or raise.
The String Bet Controversy
At first glance, string betting doesn’t seem that bad at all. It may be slightly annoying or slow down the game a bit, but an inexperienced player is likely to think that there is really no reason to have an actual rule against it, just like in the case of slow rolling in poker.
However, most rules in poker were made for a reason.
Poker rules have changed over the years, with existing ones being adapted and new ones introduced to answer the needs of the game better as it developed and also protect players from those who’d want to gain an unfair advantage.
The string bet rule was introduced because of the latter reasons.
In poker, information is power, and figuring out where your opponent is at is of crucial importance.
There are various legitimate ways to get this kind of information, such as applying logical thinking to figure out their range of hands, carefully observing them to pick up on any physical tells, and even engaging them in a conversation.
All of these are perfectly fine and are considered a part of the game.
But certain techniques were deemed inappropriate over the years and, as such, were banned and prohibited.
String betting was put outside of the scope of legitimate poker strategies because it tries to elicit a reaction from other players under false pretenses.
Think about this scenario for a moment.
You get to the river with a hand that clearly qualifies as a bluff catcher, like the third pair. However, you believe your opponent might be on a missed draw, so you’re thinking about your options. With $350 in the pot, you see them toss out two green chips for a bet of $50. You sigh and declare, “I guess I have to call.”
As you put forward $50 to call their bet, you notice there are now two more black chips added to the initial bet, making it a total of $250.
Clearly, you weren’t thrilled to call $50 in the first place, but thinking the action was over, you were honest about your hand and tossed in the call.
Having heard this, your opponent figured you’re very unlikely to call a much bigger bet, so he decided to add an extra $200.
That’s why there are rules against string bets.
Poker is a game of people and tells, but there are limits to everything, and the poker community at twoplustwo forum and everywhere else at large agreed that using a string bet to gather information wasn’t allowed.
You can say that it’s every player’s responsibility to keep the information about their hand hidden until the very end, but if string betting were allowed, you could never say when it is the end.
You could compare this situation to purposefully miss-announcing your hand at a showdown. You declare a full house, your opponent mucks their hand, and you show air.
While the opponent is responsible for holding onto their hand until the actual showdown, this kind of behavior isn’t allowed and is against the rules. You may get away with it once, but repeat offenses can lead to harsh penalties.
Practicality behind the Rule against String Betting
Poker is a very dynamic game, and most players want the action to be as fast and as smooth as possible.
In a live setting, you might see about 25 hands an hour on average, although the number can be a bit higher or a bit lower depending on various circumstances. When you make your decision, the action moves on to the next player with no delay.
Now, imagine if there were no rules against string betting.
The player in front of you bets $50, you call, another player calls, and then the dealer looks back and sees that the initial bettor has added more chips to their bet. How do you even deal with this situation properly? Do you roll back the action and start again with this new bet?
When you think about it, if string bets were allowed, poker would become unplayable, especially if there were one or two people at the table actively looking to take advantage of this loophole.
The above scenario feels like something you’d find in a funny poker video, but without rules prohibiting string betting, it’s exactly what would happen all the time.
In reality, people would probably agree not to do this as it ruins the game, and things would turn into what they are today. But, instead of leaving it up to the players, casinos, and poker rooms have decided to make this a standard rule and be done with it.
Verbal String Bet
One of the best ways to avoid worrying about accidental string bets is by verbally declaring your action.
When you announce that you want to bet $150 before placing any chips in the middle, your verbal declaration is binding, and how you push forward your chips is no longer important.
You can even shove your entire stack, but the dealer will take $150 from it and push the rest back to you.
However, it’s possible to make a verbal string bet as well.
A couple of good examples are, once again, something you might have seen in movies.
“I call your $50 and raise you another $200.”
“I’ll bet $50 and $250 more.”
Both of these are examples of verbal string bets, where you’re stringing two separate actions together. This isn’t allowed, either.
In poker, verbal bets are binding, but only the first bet you announce plays. Everything else you do or say after that point is irrelevant as far as the rules are concerned.
So, in the first example, you’ve already announced the intention to call, and that’s where it ends. You can’t make both a call and a raise; it has to be one or the other.
In the second example, your initial bet was for $50, and that’s the binding bet. You can’t arbitrarily string another bet to that one.
If that were allowed, you could probably add another $1,000 on top of the first two bets, trying to figure out the sizing that makes your opponent uncomfortable and will be enough to get them to fold their hand.
Dealing with Habitual String Bettors
Almost in all poker games without exception, there is always at least one guy that thinks rules just don’t apply to him.
For whatever reason, he seems to believe that all these boring rules are there to keep other players in check while he is somehow above it all. If you don’t have a guy like this in your game, you should count your blessings, because they can be really annoying.
These players will often ignore the rule against a string bet or will constantly try to find ways around it. The worst part is, they’re usually not doing it to gain an advantage or pick up reads but primarily to show that they can break the rules with impunity.
Don’t let them do this.
It’s one thing to let an accidental string bet slide if you know the person doing it didn’t mean to. Being relaxed and chill about things like this will make you friends at the table. But habitual string bettors are in a completely different league, and not something you want in your live poker games.
I’d say your best way to fight string bettors back is to actively refuse to honor their bets.
Keep insisting that only the first chip plays and do it every time. Do it even if you don’t mind the fact they’re betting bigger. This will make the game even slower and, admittedly, that’s not something you or other players want, but it’s better than the alternative.
If you call them out enough on their string bet shenanigans, the floor will eventually have to do something about it.
Other players will probably get involved as well and put pressure on the guy to get in line and abide by the rules that apply to everyone else. So, it might create a bit of drama for a little while, but it will lead to much nicer sessions free of any string betting nonsense, and you can be sure no one is trying to get any tells on your by using this move.
Summary: Using A String Bet Isn’t Cool
There is nothing cool or awesome about string betting. I can see it being a thing in a home game between friends where you want to poke fun at one another, but it just won’t fly in any real game with any kind of serious money on the line, be it a cash game or a poker tournament.
Now that you know what is a string bet and how to avoid it, you should actively try not to do it.
Of course, accidents happen at a table, and sometimes the idea you had doesn’t correspond with the number of chips you slid forward.
When this happens, I’d say you should just learn from it and stay silent. Don’t try to come up with excuses for why you should be allowed to add more chips to your bet.
As long as you stay silent, your opponents might not pick up on the fact you made a mistake. The moment you start complaining about it, they’ll know you’re uncomfortable, and this can cause much bigger damage than the fact your bet is smaller than you intended.
Plus, it’s a pointless argument as no string betting is allowed, and you just won’t be able to change your action anyways. While it is not strictly speaking cheating like using unallowed software or even poker bots, but you still should avoid any shade moves at the tables.