Poker Bet Sizing Strategy
This in-depth blog on poker bet sizing strategy will help improve your game when grinding low-stakes and mid-stakes cash games.
Value betting is probably one of the most important, if not the most important, skill you need to have when playing poker, especially in cash games. When you are playing $1/$3 NL and $2/$5 NL, the vast majority of your profits will come from effective value bets.
Sure, you will make some money with the occasional bluff, but at the low-stakes, we advise refraining from excessive bluffing, since players at this level simply call too much.
Recreational players do not come to the casino to fold, they want to play poker and gamble. Keep this in mind when running a multi-street bluff. If you do, and then proceed to get called by middle pair, do not say we didn’t warn you; furthermore, nobody wants to get bluffed, especially the vast majority of sticky and stubborn recreational players. As a result, you should only look for bluffing spots against players who have the capability to fold.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty business of poker bet sizing: The number one mistake we see player’s make is raising too small. Most assuredly, once you master the skill of crafting poker bet sizes that exploit your opponents’ weaknesses, you’ll see your hourly rate go up significantly.
For example, you’re playing $1/3, with $300 in your stack and raise to $12 in middle position with QQ. Four callers see a flop of 8h 7c 4c; the pot is $60, and you are first to act. How comfortable are you when you see this flop, with four players waiting to act after you make your c-bet?
If you bet and then get raised, do you feel comfortable stacking off with one pair, here? This could have been avoided if you increased your preflop raise to push people outside of their comfort zone, thereby, thinning the field.
Premium hands such as AK, AA, KK, and QQ lose a lot of their equity against multiple opponents, performing much better against one or two opponents. Also, by thinning the field, you can fire bluffs more liberally when c-betting against 1-2 players vs. 4-5.
In particular, let’s say you raise to $20 preflop and only get one caller with the same flop of 8h 7c 4c. Don’t you feel a lot better firing value bets against one opponent with this board texture? We recommend making your preflop raises larger, especially when opening in early position or when there are a lot of limpers in your game. Even when you’re in position and there are no limpers, it’s usually best to raise a standard 5x open of $15, when playing $1/3 NL. There are even some wild games where, depending on the players involved, we recommend opening as large as $40 at a $1/3 game! One shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and not adhere to conventional raise sizes or standard opens.
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Most assuredly, game dynamics should dictate your poker bet sizing strategy; indeed, better poker players recognize emergent behavior that arises and adjust their game accordingly. The key is to find an opening bet that’s not too large that it only induces premium hands to call and worse hands to fold, but to find a size where you limit the field while still attracting a marginal calling range from your opponents. Of course, you’ll need to experiment with your sizing in your local card room to find this leverage point.
Now that we have covered preflop sizing, let’s get into some postflop poker bet sizing strategy. Keep in mind that your bet sizes will depend on the board texture, the players involved, and the effective stack sizes.
Typically, you will want to bet larger when involved in multi-way pots and smaller when you’re heads-up. This is not going to be the case 100% of the time, but let’s use some examples to demonstrate when to implement this theory.
Hand Example #1.
You open AKs in early position to $20 and get four callers.
There is $101 in the pot, and you see a flop of Kh 10h 8d.
In this spot, you want to be betting quite large, here, as there are many draws, and you’re up against multiple opponents—so somewhere around ¾ pot, $70-$75, will do just fine.
You don’t want anyone getting cute with marginal hands and putting you in a tough spot on future streets.
When you bet larger, players will not get out of line as often. Additionally, these larger bet sizes will define ranges and allow you to play your hand very profitably. Even if you are heads-up, we still advocate using a decent sizing, between 2/3 and 3/4 of the pot.
Hand Example #2.
You open AKo, under-the-gun, to $20 and get one caller on the button. There is $44 in the pot with a flop of Kh 8d 2s.
While it may be game theory optimal (GTO) to bet half-pot, here ($22), from a purely exploitative standpoint, we recommend betting $27-$30 in this spot.
We find this sizing still attracts weaker ranges and will get good value from weaker kings as well. If the player is an absolute calling-station, why not size your bets larger?
Let’s briefly talk about 3-bet pots and the term, down betting—making a relatively small c-bet after you 3-bet preflop.
Hand Example #3.
Middle-position (a standard tight regular) opens to $15; you have KK in the cut-off and opt to 3-bet to $50, blinds fold, mid-position calls. With effective stacks of $400 and $104 in the pot, the flop brings 9d 7s 2h.
Some players like to down bet, here, to around $40, to lure their opponents into calling with a wider range of hands, even AK, for example.
Down betting is a sound approach from a game theory standpoint, which serves to balance your range against strong players (an important factor as you move up in the ranks); against weak opponents, however, we prefer a stronger leading strategy, somewhere in the $50-$60 range.
Heftier serves two purposes: it gets more value from your opponent, who is likely to call with any pair, regardless of your bet size, while also setting up the hand so you can get stacks all-in by the river. While any bet size allows stacks to get in by the river, betting bigger on the flop essentially hangs your opponent, giving him the illusion that he is, in fact, pot committed.
Furthermore, if your image is good enough, you should get paid, since the local regulars are well aware of your perceived capability to bluff, in this particular spot (even though, as we alluded to earlier, you are bluffing very selectively, this happens to be a great bluff spot for a continuation bet).
Betting bigger allows you to get your entire stack in on the turn, against opponents who are never going to fold QQ-TT or even 9x.
Let’s discuss another spot that’s often overlooked. When you have a made hand and your opponent is drawing and will call a larger bet, then you should always be looking to get more value.
This is exploitative poker at its finest, and it’s the poker bet sizing strategy we recommend using in low and mid-stakes cash games. After all, if you’re not going to capitalize on opponents who can be exploited, then what’s the point of playing in the first place?
Hand Example #4
You open to $20 with JJ and get called from an extreme calling-station in the big blind. Your read is that this player hates folding and loves to chase draws.
You both have $450 effective stacks and see a flop of Th 7h 3d.
With $41 in the pot, you decide to c-bet to $30; your opponent calls, very quickly.
Pot: $101, the turn brings a 2s. Your strong read is that your opponent is on a flush draw.
We see many players bet around $50-$70 here, but why not bet $100 or even $150?
If the villain is the type of player to never fold draws, you should make him pay full price and exploit him to the maximum. This is especially true since the turn is your last opportunity to get value from him; since, if he misses his draw, he’ll just check-fold on the river, conceding the hand.
Why let him draw for cheap and give him nearly the right price to outdraw you? Don’t get caught into what others are doing; you can be creative with your bet sizes and make maximum profit when the right circumstances present themselves.
The same principle applies for making thin value bets. We have seen our clients profitably use the following strategy:
Hand Example #5.
You have QJo and the board runs out Jh 9s 3s 8d 3c. There is $110 in the pot and you are pretty certain your opponent has a 9 in her hand or even perhaps ace high.
Many regulars will just check back the river thinking they’ll never get called with worse hands. Why?
If your opponents will not check-raise-bluff on the river, why not create some value? We recommend using exploitative play once again, betting $25-$30, which may garner calls from ace/king or even 55, 66, or 77.
Instead, if you would’ve bet near half-pot, those hands probably would fold. That seemingly small river bet adds up over time; indeed, it can help lessen the burden of paying rake and tips. It’s all about being creative, losing your fear, and stepping outside of your comfort zone, which also makes you a much tougher opponent to play against.
You don’t get good hands often, so you need to capitalize when you do get good hands. Nothing is more frustrating than getting AA and not getting maximum value for the hand. Don’t leave money on the table! Fire those value bets that help build monster stacks.
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Thank you for taking the time to read our article on Poker Bet Sizing Strategy.
Alec Torelli (Founder) & Michael Wiseman (Conscious Poker Coach)