What is a forced bet in poker?

Forced bets in poker
Poker.org Staff
Posted on: September 27, 2022 24:59 PDT

Whether you’re playing Texas Hold’em, Omaha, or mixed games in a casino or online, you will face a forced bet of some kind in almost every poker variant. But what is a forced bet and how does it work? We answer these questions and much more in this guide to forced bets.

What is a forced bet?

A forced bet is a requirement in any poker game. This poker term may sound harsh based on its name, but a forced bet is simply a required bet. Blinds and antes are considered forced bets, because players must make them to play poker. They start the first round of betting and keep the game going by preventing free rounds of poker from occurring.

Forced bets take different forms, including the following.

1. Blinds

In a game like Texas Hold’em (no limit or limit) or Omaha (no limit or pot limit), you will always face blinds. The small blind and big blind are the two positions just after the dealer button. They all move around the board, one position after each hand.

Those forced bets require players to put money into the pot whether or not they play the hand. For example, in a $1/$2 game, the small blind is usually $1 and the big blind is $2. 

2. Antes

Antes are used in most stud and draw games, like 7-card stud or five-card draw. They are also sometimes used in Hold’em poker tournaments, but more so in late stages to force more action. Every player at the table will pay the same ante.

An ante can be any amount set by the structure or the rules of the cash game. It is typically about 10 percent of the size of the big blind, but this can vary widely.

3. Bring-in

In stud games, the bring-in is an additional bet to kick off every betting round. The person with a particular highest-value or lowest-value card — depending on the game and the round — will pay a bring-in to determine the betting order.

Why are forced bets used in poker?

Forced bets are typical of any poker game in the modern era, and they ensure constant action. There will be a pot for each and every round of play, whether players bet more into it or not.

Without a forced bet, players could fold around each hand. And without an incentive to bet, games would be much slower. In tournaments, players could get by on a short stack without betting in perpetuity until a short stack forced some type of effort.

Blinds and antes are an incentive to play at least one or two hands per round. In the small blind, a half of the big bet is already going into the pot, so it encourages some players to get involved with a wider range of hands. The big blind is the size of a big bet, which means a player can sometimes remain in the game for no additional money preflop if the hand is checked around.

Forced bets increase the pot odds for players when they are in the blinds. With money already wagered, they can play a wider range of poker hands from the blind positions.

Antes are simply a way to encourage even more action. They’re becoming more common in cash games, and they often show up in the middle or later stages of tournaments — like at the WSOP — to speed up the play.

What happens if you can't match a bet in poker?

Players who cannot afford to put in a small or big blind — or an ante — will be all-in on that hand. No matter what the players hold, they will risk it all with as many chips as they possess. If other players then make the full bets, this creates a side pot, with all covering the short player in the main pot.

It often happens that a short-stacked player does not have enough chips to cover the big blind, so they will be all-in with whatever hand they hold. Those forced moves give players little chance to bluff or work in some poker strategy, because they must bet everything in lieu of the required bets.

However, the person in the small blind does not have to complete the bet by matching the big blind to continue playing. The small blind can fold their  hand and lose that small blind rather than risk any more with an unfavorable or poorly-timed hand.

The takeaway

Forced bets are at the heart of today’s poker. They serve as insurance that every single round of play will have action. Even if everyone folds around to the big blind, it was a round that made everyone at least consider playing. And in the end, someone won the chips in the pot.

Casinos and poker room managers use antes, bring-ins, and blinds to keep games moving. They prevent players from taking up a chair and not providing action to their competitors.

Featured image source: Flickr by slgckgc used under CC license