String Bets: What Some Beginners Learn the Hard Way
by Michael Wiesenberg © 2019 Great Bridge Links
Making a string bet in a public cardroom is one of the most common beginner mistakes, and something that anyone coming from online poker is almost sure to do — even with hundreds of hours in online play experience.
A string bet (more typically a raise) is a bet in which a player doesn’t get all the chips required for the raise into the pot in one motion.
A string bet is an illegal bet. The concept of string bets is complicated (and not just because it is interpreted differently from club to club). If you want to raise a bet, you are supposed to have as many chips as you need to cover the bet plus your raise in your hand when you put your hand in the pot, and then release all of them before withdrawing your hand.
Similarly, if you wish to bet more than the minimum in a no-limit game, you are supposed to have as many chips as you wish to bet in your hand. Most clubs permit you to say the magic words, “I raise” (or something that means the same, even something as nebulous as “Going up!”) or, in the case of a bet, “I bet” (or something interpretable as synonymous), and then make one or more trips back to your stack for more chips. In the absence of the preceding conditions, you are likely to be guilty of making a string bet, the penalty for which is being permitted only to call the preceding bet, or put in the pot only as many chips as you currently have in your hand (or, in the case of a bet in a no-limit game, bet only the minimum for the game).
The string bet situation trips up more players than almost any other rule. The rationale behind prohibiting string bets is that, in former times, a player might put in part of his bet, hesitate long enough to see the reactions of other players, and, based on those reactions, perhaps then increase the bet — or not, if the player doesn’t have a big hand but wants to drive all opponents out, and divines that one of the participants is eager to call.
In old Westerns a poker player says, “I call your hunnert,” putting the chips in the pot. Then he looks around dramatically, grabs more chips, and says, “And raise a thousand more.” That doesn’t happen in cardrooms, for two reasons. One is, you can’t both call and raise. The two actions are, by definition, mutually exclusive. The other is, in a cardroom that would be ruled a string bet. But it’s not limited to the Old West. In one of the recent celebrity poker games on tv, a participant put in enough chips for a call of the previous bet, paused a moment (just like in the movies: might that have had something to do with her being an actress?), then announced, “And I raise,” as she went back to her stack for more chips. That’s teaching bad lessons to the viewers, and would never be permitted in a “real” tournament — or any cardroom.
Hollywood almost always gets it wrong. In a climactic play in Rounders, Teddy KGB makes a substantial bet by holding a handful of large denomination chips over the pot and dropping them into the pot one at a time, until all of them are in the pot. In a real cardroom in real life, a ruling would probably be made that only the first chip to fall into the pot counts and none of the other chips could be bet.
Make your raise all at once, preferably accompanied by the word “raise.” In some cardrooms, even if you say the word “raise,” you can go back to your stack only once for more chips, so be careful.
In most cardrooms, a safe approach to not being forced to bet only the minimum is to announce the total bet. If it would cost $4 to match the previous bet but you want to make it $20, you can probably get by with any of the following: “I raise $16,” “$4 plus $16,” “I’m raising to $20,” or simply, “$20.” Perhaps the best procedure is to accompany any of the preceding with a stack of 20 dollar chips (or four $5 chips, etc.).