Learn when to overbet in poker. The overbet is a useful tool that can be used for bluff or value depending on your perception of your opponent.
What is an Overbet?
It makes sense to start by defining exactly what we are talking about here. So what is an overbet
in poker? It’s something that the majority of players never do, yet it’s a great way of boosting our winrate.
Experienced poker players typically think about all of their bet sizes as a percentage of what is already in the middle
. “I will bet half-pot”….”I will bet 75% of the pot”. This is different from the average recreational player who only thinks in absolute values. “I will bet $30 in this situation”.
An overbet is very simply a scenario where we choose to bet more than 100% of what is in the middle.
Perhaps there is $50 in the middle. An overbet would be any bet-sizing larger than $50, assuming we were the first player to put additional chips into the pot. Sometimes we hear the term “underbet” too. Underbetting is also an extremely important part of poker-strategy and refers to bet sizes less than about 50% of the pot.
We can break it down into a few different reasons why overbetting can be the best choice. The first three reasons are going to be the most important for the majority of us, while the fourth reason will be of interest to more advanced players.
1. We get a better risk/reward ratio on our bluff
Now this might sound counter-intuitive at first. Don’t we get a worse risk/reward ratio on our bluff when we use a larger sizing?
It’s certainly true that the risk is higher when we decide to overbet, but that doesn’t automatically mean the risk/reward ratio is less in our favour. In some cases the reward will be so much higher that it is easily worth the additional risk.
Let’s illustrate this with a quick example.
We are last to act on the river and decide to bluff. There is $100 in the middle
. We have two options. We can either -
- Bluff $50 and get folds around 40% of the time.
- Bluff $130 and get folds around 95% of the time.
This particular example is not necessarily that far from being realistic. Depending on opponent’s range
(more on this later), we may get a large amount of extra folds by increasing our sizing.
So which of the two options do we prefer?
Let’s keep the model simple and assume that our opponent is never check/raising here. This is not a complicated question to answer in that case, we simply need our formula for EV.
(Probability of winning * amount we can win) – (Probability of losing * amount we can lose).
So the EV of scenario 1
(0.4 * $100) – (0.6 * $50)
$40 - $30 = EV of $10
And the EV of scenario 2
(0.95 * $100) – (0.05 * $130)
$95 - $6.5 = EV of $88.5
We should be clearly able to see that despite the added risk in scenario 2, there is no question that scenario 2 provides us with the best risk:reward ratio.
There are situations in poker where a player may rarely fold against a half pot bet, but may fold close to their entire range
against an overbet. These situations are crucial in maximising our winrate.
2. Players play worse against overbets
This is an extremely important and underrated factor. Poker is not just a game of numbers, it’s also a game of psychology. Players have a tendency to play worse when they find themselves in a situation they are less familiar with or less comfortable with.Players face regular bet sizings (50-100% of the pot) all day during their poker sessions. Because they see them so frequently, they are often pretty comfortable and have a default strategy already mapped out for dealing with these common situations. As soon as we start throwing overbets (and also underbets) at them, we are taking them out of their comfort zone.
So if we analysed a certain spot with a poker computer we might find that the EV of betting 60% pot and overbetting are identical. But the way this translates to the average poker game is that overbetting will nearly always have a higher EV in practice. Our opponent usually hasn’t already developed a solid plan for defending in this particular scenario.
3. Fish don’t like to fold
Especially if we are playing lower limit games,
this can be vital if we want to achieve the highest winrate possible. The truth is that when we are facing certain types of very bad opponents, many of the “standard” poker rules we have learned go out of the window. It’s important to think outside the box and make the highest EV decision
even if it feels slightly unorthodox on occasions.
One way we can do this is by recognizing situations where our opponent does not usually plan on folding. This might be as a result of the player type he is, or the type of hand we think he is likely to have given his line.
In these scenarios we can start making very large bets for value. If we feel limited by the “standard” restraints of always betting less than pot-size, we are potentially going to be missing a ton of value.
We might find ourselves in a situation where a recreational player likely has a draw given the nature of the board texture
. Many weaker players don’t really care too much about pot-odds.
Poker is about having fun for them, not about doing difficult maths. So if they really want to find out if their draw hits, or they have a “good feeling” that this time their draw is coming, we can exploit this by making very large bets, even overbet shoves all-in.
4. We can have more bluffs in our range
This is the more theoretical effect that overbetting has on our game plan. Large bets allow us to get away with a higher ratio of bluffs in our range compared to value hands.
Our opponent gets a worse price on his call and is not incentivised to call as much, and so we should be bluffing more.
One thing we can learn from this is that the deeper the effective stacks, the more aggressively we can get away with bluffing on early streets.
This is because we retain the ability to make very large overbets on the river. This allows us to have a large amount of bluffs in our range
but still be able to keep it balanced.
Playing with shallow stacks has the opposite effect. We have very little leverage as a result of the decreased effective stacks and are forced into having a larger proportion of our betting range being for value.
The Best Spots to Overbet Bluff
We are often looking for something very specific when trying to find good overbet
spots. In particular the following two things
- Opponent has a capped range
- Opponent has only a small amount of air in his range
The reasons for the first point here should be somewhat obvious. If opponent has a whole bunch of strong hands in his range, then overbetting can end up being a costly mistake. We much prefer it when the probability of our opponent holding a premium hand which can call our overbet is very low.
To help us understand the second point, let’s have a look at a hand example.
6 handed, NLHE
BTN (100bb) Hero
BB (100bb) Villain
Hero is dealt AT
UTG folds, MP folds, CO folds, Hero opens to 3bb, SB folds, BB calls.
BB checks, Hero Bets 4bb, BB calls.
BB checks, Hero checks
BB checks, Hero?
So hero has a backdoor
flush-draw. He fires, the flop, but doesn’t really improve on the turn and opts to check back. This is fine.
The important part is on the river. BB had the opportunity to fire the river OOP after hero checks back the turn, but he didn’t. Let’s think about what this means.
Firstly there are certain types of holdings that the vast majority of players will be leading here OOP on the river. Pretty much anything that is a decent Kx or stronger will be betting for value. Players are not typically going to check this hand on the river and assume we will bet since we have already opted to check back the turn.
We can identify that our opponent is capped.
But this is not all, there is another interesting feature regarding how his ange is constructed. Most decent players will also be leading the river with any busted air holdings.
It’s a great spot to get a ton of river folds. Some players will know this, other players will be passive and not realise what a great bluffing opportunity they have. Let’s imagine for a minute that we are playing against a good regular who will fire all of his busted air holdings here on the river.
So what does his river checking range now look like? It looks very specifically like showdown holdings lower than about a weak King. Stuff like 9x, pocket-pairs, backdoor
busted Ace-high holdings which he considers to still have some showdown value.
In a scenario where our opponent specifically has a whole bunch of showdown value-hands and no air, then betting a smallish sizing can be very problematic. We will simply get called a ton.
Overbetting on the other hand can force our opponent to fold out his entire range
since he is capped. This is much more profitable and offers us a much more attractive risk/reward ratio.
So why do we say that him not having air is important? We would still actually make a ton of money by overbetting against an air-heavy range.
It’s simply that we don’t need to do this when our opponent has so much air which are straight-forward folds against a smaller bet. We might be able to get a similar amount of folds with a small bet,
which means a small sizing will have a higher expectation.
Showdown heavy range, without many air/premiums (often called a condensed range) – Overbet
Air heavy range (especially if it still contains the occasional premium – often referred to as a polarized range) – Small sizing. We get the best price on our bluff and don’t lose too much when our opponent is slowplaying.
Let’s say we find ourselves in a similar situation to the hand example we looked at. We make the overbet
and our opponent snap calls us with pocket eights.
At first glance it seems like a bad call, but there are some reasons why this might happen.
The first reason is very basic. Our opponent is a calling station
. At this stage I would simply open up the player notes and write “NB” which stands for “non-believer”. We know not to overbet bluff this player in the future.
However, we have now found a great target for value-overbets on the river.
By default we should assume that the average player is folding slightly too much to overbets in scenarios where his range
is capped. So assuming no information we should feel comfortable making this type of bluff even at lower limit games. However the stronger our opponent the more likely he is to start thinking on a high level.
The way it works in the above hand example, is that our opponent’s range looks weak because he checks the turn and river OOP. If we were legitimately trying to value-bet in this scenario, we would usually opt for a small sizing to encourage our opponent to call. So in the eyes of a shrewd villain it might look as if we are trying to force him to fold his capped range. I.e we know he is capped, but he also knows he appears capped and by extension might imagine that we also realise he appears capped.
So now we have a player that we can potentially overbet for value against and rep nothing, but with our true bluffs we can opt for a more regular looking sizing in order to represent that we are making a sensible value-bet against his perceived range. Whatever his tendencies we want to probe for a weakness.
Does he fold too much vs overbets or call too much? How does he react to a regular sized bet? Does he give it more credit or less? When we have the answers to such questions then naturally we can begin to form an exploitative strategy.
Most of our opponents have an exploitable tendency but it’s also useful to understand what to do in the fictional scenario that our opponent is perfectly balanced.
Now we can’t weight our overbetting or regular-sizing ranges towards value or bluffs. We have to weighh them perfectly based on the sizing we use. So essentially the larger the sizing we use the more bluffs it is correct to utilize and still be able to consider the range as balanced.
If we always showed up with a bluff when we decided to overbet then this is something that can technically be exploited. So we essentially need to have a nice mixture of both value-bets/bluffs
so our opponent has no incentive to deviate from his current strategy.
Putting it Together
Statistically, you are probably one of the guys that never overbets. If overbets are already apart of your game, then congratulations. If not, the best approach is to start experimenting right away.
So long as we think deeply about our opponent’s range, and don’t worry too much about making mistakes at first, there is no reason why this can’t become a hugely profitable component of our strategy in the future!
Take the time to learn it and make overbetting a regular part of your strategy.
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