Should You Bet in the Dark When Playing Poker?

By J.W. Paine in Poker
| July 28, 2022 11:23 am PDT
Should You bet in the Dark When Playing Poker?

If you play poker frequently or watch the various poker programs and videos, you may hear someone talk about in the dark poker. Naturally, you will wonder exactly what that is.

Like other tactics used in poker, betting in the dark has a specific purpose: To give yourself an advantage and to disadvantage a foe. How successful the bet is in the dark depends on many variables, not the least of which is what sort of in the dark play you’ve made, whether you chose the appropriate time to use it, and if you’ve made it correctly.

By the way, if you encounter any poker terms here or elsewhere that are unfamiliar to you, be sure to check out our complete guide to poker.

A Brief Explanation of Betting in the Dark Poker

Someone blindfolded

The “in the dark” tactic is basically betting j-u-s-t ahead of when it is actually your turn to act.

To clarify, let’s take “bet in the dark” semi-literally and agree that it means to declare the amount you are betting before the next round of wagering.

For example, once the hole cards have been dealt in Texas Hold’em, there is a round of pre-flop wagering. Once that has occurred—but before the flop is dealt—a player might declare that they will bet a certain amount, regardless of what the flop is.

Important

It’s important to note that whoever wants to use the “bet in the dark” tactic must be either the first player acting in a particular wagering round or a person following an in the dark bet with their own dark bet.

Incidentally, don’t confuse bet in the dark poker with the blinds or playing from the blinds. Blinds are required bets (typically a small blind and a big blind) each player must make once during one complete cycle of play (each player is the dealer, the small blind, and the big blind once as the deal rotates clockwise around the table).

Also, don’t confuse bet in the dark poker with playing without looking at your cards at all. WSOP bracelet holder Annette Obrestad allegedly did this in 2007 at a 180-seat sit ‘n go tournament to show.

“Just how important it is to play position and to pay attention to the players at the table.”

She won that tournament, by the way.

Why and When to Bet in the Dark

Dealer counting chips

Right off, betting in the dark isn’t something you can or should do whenever you have the inclination. First of all, you need to be positioned so that you are the first player to take action when the next card is dealt, and the round of wagering begins. Typically, this means you are under the gun (UTG)—just to the left of the big blind.

It would help if you always were positioned to be the first to act once the next card is dealt—otherwise, you’re simply betting out of turn, and the rules are not kind to such things.

Note well that you’re in the dark poker betting declaration is binding. When the next card hits the table, you must place whatever wager you declared while in the dark.

What does this sort of bet accomplish? Typically, a bet in the dark is made to intimidate opponents. It could be a bluff, or it would easily represent confidence in your cards.

When you bet in the dark, you announce that you have the dominant hand. If done pre-flop, it could cause some players to fold marginal hands they may have been considering. You may have a pocket that wants just a few callers. AA is one such hand—the more callers you have pre-flop, the more likely you will see one of them draw out on you. Your intimidating bet in the dark might just drive out such a hand.

I should note another “in the dark” play: the check in the dark, which indicates your hand is not worth betting on. This can be used to convince a single opponent to check as well, mainly if you are known for check-raising frequently. Fear of a raise, your opponent follows your lead and checks.

Phil Helmuth is well-known for checking in the dark in tournament play. He does it for the reasons noted above but also because it effectively negates his position in the play, forcing the later player to act with no knowledge of Helmuth’s hand that a bet from Helmuth may have indicated.

Here’s a video of an instance where Helmuth’s affinity for checking in the dark backfired on him.

The check in the dark deprives your opponents of any information they might have gleaned from your call/raise—but it also may annoy them and can sometimes result in an interesting response—a raise in the dark.

That’s right. There’s no limitation on the number of players who can check/bet/raise in the dark. However, more than a single instance of this is unlikely because there isn’t that much time between the last round of wagering and the net card being dealt. On the other hand, a second retaliatory in the dark wager can unsettle the initial dark bet maker enough to make mistakes.

Talk about turning the tables!

By the way, although it’s typically acceptable to honor a bet in the dark made by simply setting out the correct amount of chips (say $100 for this example) before the next card is dealt, you can help avoid any confusion by simply saying “betting $100 in the dark.”

Across the Table: What in the Dark Play Does to the Opposition

Helmuth, Negreanu, and plenty of other top poker pros have often used the bet/check in the dark in televised tournament play to popularize what was once a rather arcane tactic. But many people use the tactic for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time—or both.

Understanding what you want to achieve—and what each of the in the dark actions produces among your opponents—is key to your success with the tactic.

It Can Annoy People

Players are used to poker hands proceeding in a well-known and orderly fashion. Anything that upsets that is cause for concern, perhaps even alarm. For instance, you won’t see nearly as many instances of check in the dark play in cash games.

By the way, it’s impossible to check/bet in the dark at online casinos. Even the best casino websites won’t allow playing out of turn. So if you’ve had enough of this silly check in the dark business, you belong online.

Grinding in poker

They call playing in the cash games grinding for a reason: it’s hours, days, and weeks of the same thing, over and over. Casino gamblers are looking for the jackpot. Cash game poker players are the oysters of the gambling world and win small amounts over time, minimizing their losses and biding their time.

It Negates the Advantage of a Late Position

A check in the dark deprives your opponents of information and may lead to an exploitable wager from them as a reward.

On the other hand, a bet in the dark feeds your opponent information that may or may not be true. Depending on the circumstances and the cards, you may be betting in the dark to encourage a short-tempered opponent to re-raise or even all-in.

It Can Intimidate Weaker Players

Players new to poker outside the family room or the neighbor’s garage game can sometimes be bullied into folding in either out of confusion about the tactic itself or fear that they have underestimated your hand.

Of course, you might be playing against an old pro grinder who’s seen it all; been there, done that. In that case, you’re probably not accomplishing much of anything but depriving them of information about your hand.

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

Poker isn’t like live online casinos. You’re playing against other poker players. The dealer represents the house and takes a small rake from each pot.

No, poker is mano a mano.

A bet in the dark is not something to use indiscriminately, nor is it anything to fear. In many instances, it’s being used improperly or incorrectly—someone’s been watching too many WSOP videos on YouTube.

But if it is used against you, use it to your advantage.

For example, is it a check in the dark? If you have pocket aces or kings, you might consider responding with a three-bet. Since pocket rockets have a habit of getting cracked by the most embarrassingly bad hands imaginable, you will typically want your “in the dark” opponent to pay to play.

If the check in the dark was a feint and the checker’s response to your three-bet is an all-in, then you’re almost certainly up against up another monster hand, perhaps an over-pair to your kings—or even the other two kings.

And, of course, it’s possible that the all-in was made because the opponent misread you and believes your three-bet was a bluff.

Like any tactic, it’s best used when you understand why you’re using it and know that what it will cause your opponents to do in response to it is precisely what you intended to happen.

The End Justifies the Means

Ask twenty pro poker players what they think of the “in the dark“ tactic, and you’ll get every response from “Useless trick for n00bs” to “Canny way to get inside the head of virtually any player.” As with any poker advice, your mileage may vary—and always consider the source.

In the final analysis, it’s neither good nor bad to bet in the dark in poker. It’s a situational tactic, and when used sparingly and wisely, it can enhance your winnings.

Naturally, if it strikes you as a useless relic of the dwindling number of brick & mortar poker rooms, then you’ll be happy to learn that it’s impossible to do online. Every mobile poker real money app you will find yourself in simply won’t accept an out-of-turn wager from you.

Yes, you can typically set your seat to call, raise, check, or fold automatically —but none of those choices is relayed to the other players. And playing eight tables at once tends to render subtle betting tricks invisible.

But since even the greats like Helmuth can accomplish nothing with a check in the dark, your play shouldn’t be adversely affected by its absence. Frankly, there’s plenty more to learn before you try out the more subtle tricks like playing bet in the dark poker.

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