Learn proper bet sizing in poker. You want your bet sizes to not vary with the strength of your hand, rather to the situation and board.
Betsizing is one of the most important aspects of poker.
The complexity of any given poker game is tied directly to the betting structure that's used in it. While science recently managed to solve heads-up limit hold 'em games, top no-limit heads-up players are still able to crush poker bots which highlight that difference in complexity. Choosing a proper sizing can be the only thing that separates some players from a positive win rate.
Mashing the predefined "1/2" and "pot" buttons is far from optimal, especially in pot-limit and no-limit games which offer a ton of possibilities to the players. In this article, we'll briefly describe different betting structures and explore the betsizing as it pertains to the poker strategy.
Different Betting Structures
The fixed limit used to be by far the most popular form of poker. While this isn't the case anymore, limit games are still far from irrelevant. Fixed limit hold'em tables might be largely abandoned nowadays, but every Stud game (Razz, 7 card Stud etc.), some draw games like Badugi and mixed games (8-game, HORSE) are still played using the old, reliable fixed limit rules so it might be a good idea to stay familiar with them especially if you enjoy playing live poker.
In a fixed limit poker game, the amount of money any player can bet or raise is determined beforehand. If you are playing in a $5/$10 fixed limit hold'em game, the small bet is $5 and the big bet $10. The blinds will be $2.5 and $5. The big blind is always equal to the size of the small bet. On the first two streets (preflop and flop) you can only bet using increments of small bet (for example you raise to 10$ villain than raises to 15$ you re-raise to 20$ etc.) while on the turn and river you're bets will be the increments of the big bet. Lastly, there's a set amount of raises (usually 4, sometimes 3 or 5) you can make before betting is capped.
Pot-Limit Omaha is the second most popular poker game in the world after no-limit hold'em which makes pot-limits betting structure fairly popular and relevant. Fortunately, pot-limit games play fairly similar to no-limit games with one exception - the maximum amount you can bet at any given moment is a pot size bet.
How to calculate a pot size bet? If you're the first to act on the flop and there's 50$ in the middle
of the table then that's the maximum amount you can bet. It get's slightly more complicated when you're not opening the action. Let's say on the turn the pot is equal to 100$ and your opponent is betting 50$ into you, add up the pot + the bet + your call ($100 + $50 + $50 = $200). You are allowed to bet that total amount in addition to your call so your pot size bet would be equal to 250$.
There's also an easier way of calculating the pot size bet. You just have to multiply the last bet made in the hand by three and add any other amount currently in the pot. So in the last example 3 x 50$ = 150$ and then add the initial size of the pot 150$ + 100$ = 250$.
No-Limit hold’em requires no introduction. It's the "Cadillac of poker"
, a game that you can learn in 5 minutes, but you need an entire lifetime to master. The fact that you can bet your entire stack at any given moment makes no-limit hold'em incredibly complex.
Expected value of a certain play depends largely on your betsizing and yet the word that we hear most often when someone justifies the size of his or her bet is "standard". Even somewhat experienced players often neglect betsizing
in favor of different aspects like hand combinations, frequencies etc. In the next part of this article, we'll discuss the role of betsizing in poker strategy.
There is a direct correlation between betsizing and pot odds
. This is really important
because it allows you to control the odds you're giving your opponent when you're value betting
and allows you to choose proper betsizing
when you rely on your fold equity
. Let's look at some examples.
You're in a heads-up pot holding AK on a K98 board vs. a loose recreational player and there's 1$ in the middle of the table. You know that your opponent has many draws and second pair type hands in his range and you want to maximize your EV and protect your hand at the same time by betting big. If you make a pot size bet villain has to call 1$ to win 2$ (1$ pot + 1$ bet). You're giving him 2:1 odds which means that he needs 33% equity to break even.
Let's say that you're holding A2 on the same board texture as before vs. a different player, and you decided to go for a cbet bluff with your backdoor equity. If you bet 1$ into 1$ pot, how often does your opponent have to fold for your bluff to be profitable? When bluffing you're risking however much you bet in order to win what is already in the pot. In this example, you're getting 1:1 odds which means that villain has to fold more than 50% of the time.
Here are some examples that you can memorize of the equity (or fold equity
) that you need to be break even in certain spots based on betsizing:
- vs. 2x pot size bet - 40%
- vs. 1x pot size bet - 33%
- vs. 3/4 pot size bet - 30%
- vs. 1/2 pot size bet - 25%
- vs. 1/3 pot size bet - 20%
- 2x pot size bet - 66%
- 1x pot size bet - 50%
- 3/4 pot size bet - 43%
- 1/2 pot size bet - 33%
- 1/3 pot size bet - 25%
As a general rule, assuming you're playing an exploitative strategy (which should be the case at lower limits) you want to keep your value bets as big as possible and bluffs as small as possible to maximize your EV. In reality it's not as simple because you have a lot of other factors to consider when choosing a correct betsizing.
- Your range. If you're playing against a good opponent you can't base your betsizing on the hand you're holding and you have to consider your entire range instead, along with other factors like board texture, villain's range etc. Otherwise, your strategy can become really transparent and easy to exploit.
- Opponents range. If you play against a recreational player with a 'static' (unaffected by your betsizing) calling range, you want to bomb every street with your value hands. Conversely you can get away with really cheap half pot bluff cbets because villain won't adjust his range based on your small sizing.
- Fold equity. On a K72 rainbow board, your bet should have a lot of fold equity which means that you can get away with cheap bluff cbets and you're often better off betting small with strong value hands.
- Protection. On a wet board with many draw combinations possible JT6 for example, you should bet bigger in order to protect your value hands and put more pressure on marginal hands when you're bluffing.
- History/Notes/Player Type. If you're playing against a maniac who loves to raise small bets or you're playing vs. loose passive player capable of calling overbets with second pair type hands you should adjust your betsizing accordingly.
One of the most important concepts when it comes to exploitable betsizing strategy is pot management.
While looking at a street in isolation doesn't have to be a mistake, often times we're planning what's going to happen on the turn and river before we even make our flop decision. It's important not to neglect the betsizing in those plans and think about how our bet will affect the pot on a later street.
For example, with 77 on a J74 flop, against a loose-passive player we obviously want to play for stacks and there aren't many bad cards for us that can show up on later streets. Let's say there's 1$ in the pot blinds are 0.05$/0.1$ and villain has 9$ left. If we use 'standard' 1/2 or 2/3 pot sizing against the opponent in check/calling mode, we won't be able to get his entire stack.
However, if we go for a near pot size bet on each street we should be able to play for stacks even in a single raised pot. Thinking about pot management can also help us choose the optimal play for extracting as much value as possible.
Pot management is also important when we're running a multi-street bluff. If we have a long history and we know that our opponent loves to float on the flop and turn, but folds really often to a river bet, we should bomb both flop and turn with our bluffs even though we usually want to keep them as inexpensive as possible. If we play against someone who has a tendency to call too often vs. small sizing but folds often vs. big bets we can use that in our multi-barrel bluff too.
If it turns out that we can't get the entire stack from our opponent without overbetting the pot
, we might want to consider check/raising on one of the streets.
Betsizing and Notes
Paying attention to your opponents betsizing is one of the best things you can do to improve your note taking. Exploitable betsizing is the way to go on micro stakes mainly because people don't pay enough attention to punish it. If you want to gain an edge over your opponents you shouldn't make the same mistake.
Making notes about betsizing is also really simple, you just have to type the size of the bet (1/2, 3/4, 2x etc.), its purpose (value/bluff) and something that will help you evaluate the probability of the note being accurate. Personally, I like to put three question marks at the end of the note if I see something for the first time and then remove one question mark if I see a specific play again. If there's no question marks after my note I consider it to be accurate.
Also, if it turns out that villain uses the same sizing with both value and bluffs I make a note that his sizing is balanced. Lastly, if a player is particularly unbalanced I usually write an exclamation mark after the note so it's obvious that I should really deviate from my default strategy when playing against this particular opponent. Here are some examples of betsizing notes made using this simple system:
- "2/3pot value ???"
- "1/2pot bluff ?"
- "3/4pot balanced?"
- "2x pot bluff!" etc.
Betsizing is one of the most important and undervalued aspects of poker. Make good use of it!Adding a couple of big blinds to your 'standard' value betsizing might be all that you really need to become a winning player. Maybe your sophisticated bluffing strategy underperforms because with all the complex hand combo calculations you forgot about choosing the optimal sizing? No matter if you're a beginner or a serious regular, improving your betsizing can almost certainly make you into a better poker player!
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