If there is one key rule you have heard about in poker, it's probably the following. Verbal is binding. And that makes sense. Saying verbally what you are going to do is the clearest way to express your intentions. Especially when you are betting. When you don't say anything and you just push out chips, you risk putting yourself in a bad situation. This is because if there is a mistake somewhere in your bet it can be hard to know what you as the player actually intended vs what actually happened. That being said, what about the situations where a verbal bet actually doesn't count? It's a rare thing, but they do exist. So what are these situations so you can avoid them? Let's take a look.
Situation #1: Betting Fractions Of "The Pot"
Believe it or not, trying to verbally bet a fraction of a pot means nothing in poker. It's not surprising that some players would find this odd. After all, the pot has a fixed value so why can't saying something like "I bet half the pot" apply? This goes to a specific rule to the game you are playing. There is only one type of game where saying the word "pot" is a binding bet, and that is any game that is pot limit. If a game is no limit, the "pot" term does not apply. This is because in no limit part of the game is being able to keep track of the amount of money in the pot yourself.
Pot limit is different because by rule no bet can be more, so the dealer must know the value of the pot at all times. In no limit, no such rule exists. Therefore to say "pot" or any fraction of it, is a value that is unknown. it would be like saying "I bet a bunch". As a result, if you say "I bet X amount of the pot" you technically have not made a valid bet yet, and whatever chips you put out will be considered the bet and not the value that you intended.
As a side note, even in a pot limit game, any fraction of the pot is also not recognized. In a pot limit game, the only bet pertaining to the pot that is recognized by the dealer is a "pot" declaration. Anything else does not apply. That means even though the dealer knows the amount in the pot, trying to bet half the pot does not help you. You still have to declare the amount that you want to bet if it's anything less than a full pot bet. If you do bet pot, then the dealer will declare for you what that value is and in that case you are now bound to put in that value out for a bet and the action will then continue.
Situation #2: Saying Generic Terms Before An All In
You may have seen this happen before. People saying "Ok let's do this" or "let's go" as they push out chips. Their intent is usually pretty clear. They are signaling that they want to go all in with the opponent that they are involved in. The problem is, if they don't say the words "all in" they technically can find themselves stuck with a much smaller bet.
A common scenario is as follows. Player 1 puts out a bet. Player 2 raises. Player 1 says something like "ok let's do this" puts out a stack of chips and then says "I'm all in". In this case Player 1 could be told that they are not in fact all in, that the only bet that counts currently is the stack of chips that they put out when they said their first statement. If the stack of chips only calls the raise from Player 2, it is only a call. If it's a legal raise, then it's a raise. What it won't be is all in, unless that stack of chips by Player 1 is every chip they have. Then in that case it is a moot point.
The moral of the story is simple. If you want to go all in, make sure you say "all in" first before you say anything else. That way there is no miscommunication between you and the dealer about what you are trying to do. Once you are all in you can say whatever you like (assuming of course you are heads up and your opponent has last action). Until then, any action you make that is not what you intended can be bound to you, and that is not something you want to risk.
Situation #3: Betting An Amount With Multiple Interpretations
What's this one you may ask? Simple. Saying something like "I bet 5". Ok...5 what? 500? 5000? 500,000? When it comes to numbers that can mean different things, there is actually a rule to help cover this. When someone bets a generic number it is always the highest reasonable amount that is less than or equal to the pot size.
Here is a common example. Let's say the blinds are 200-400 and the pot is less than 5000. If someone says 5, then without any other information the bet will be construed as 500. If on the other hand the pot is 5000 or larger the bet would be construed as 5000.
You can see how this could screw you over badly if you intended to go lower and now realize that you owe a lot more. When making bets it is always smart to say the full amount that you want to do. That way no one will have to second guess your intent on the amount.
Where Can I Go Where There Is A Dealer To Keep Track Of This Stuff?
If you are in the Cincinnati area you can come try out our club to sharpen your poker skills anytime we're open. We have tournaments going on almost every night, and even have cash games too. We're in the West Chester area at 4844 Union Center Pavilion Drive. You can also email us or reach out on Facebook with any questions you have for us.