Bet size matters, and it's fully in your control with every aggressive play you make. Whether it’s going all-in for 88bb's or donk betting just 1bb.
This is one of the great parts of playing no limit versus limit poker. Having a choice in bet size gives the no limit player more options as well as more information to work with. You can tailor your bet size to gain the value or the folds you’re looking for.
And, you can use your opponent’s bet size to make a read on the strength of their hand.
Listen to the podcast #401 as you follow along below:
Big = Strong; Small = Weak
In general, big bets and raises are a sign of strength, while smaller sizes are a sign of weakness. This is because when bluffing, players want to save money just in case their opponent doesn’t fold. And when they’ve got the nuts, they go for as much value as possible.
You've seen this played out thousands of times. The big blind player calls a preflop raise and the flop comes down Jh7c2c. The big blind player donk bets into the raiser for only 1bb in the 6.5bb pot. What do you make of this bet?
Surely, it’s weakness.
If the big blind hit a TP or better hand, he’s either check-raising or betting bigger (1/2 pot or more) to gain value from your strong preflop range. Sometimes a set of 7’s might make this play in hopes you raise, but if you just call with a pair or a straight draw, he’s missing out on value.
Bet Sizes Across Multiple Streets
The bet size on one particular street matters and can help you read into their actions. But you must also pay attention to their bet size across every street.
Here’s a great example:
Your opponent open-raised preflop, and you’re the only caller on the button. The flop comes down Ad 9d 7s. He makes the OOP cbet for 1/2 pot, and you call.
Your hand reading skills and experience with this player tells you he’s making this 1/2 pot cbet with one pair hands or better and strong draws (flush or open-ended straight draws).
The turn comes the 6s, making the board Ad 9d 7s 6s (there are two possible flush draws and 3-to-the-straight). Your opponent increases his bet to 3/4 pot. What can you make of this increase in bet size?
Generally, it's because the board got wetter and they’re worried about all the draws. They want to charge you to continue in the hand, so it could be TP or better. I would discount draws in their range because draws often continue bluffing at the same size. They want to keep up the pressure without putting too many chips at risk.
Let's change the turn bet sizing. They still bet 1/2 pot on the flop, but then make it just 1/4 pot when the board got wetter (Ad 9d 7s 6s). Now, what's your read on their hand strength?
Looks to me like they're totally bluffing and they want to make the cheapest possible bet to get you to fold. Or, they have a draw themselves, and are trying to set a cheap price to catch it on the river instead of checking to allow you to bet bigger.
Critical bet size reading skill: When you make a read based on their bet sizing, you must exploit that read. Fold, call or raise as necessary based on whether or not they’ll continue in the hand.
- If you think they're weak, and they can fold to a raise, bluff raise them.
- If you think they're weak, and they WON'T fold to a raise, value bet big (and don't bluff the unbluffable!).
- Sense strength? Raise for max value with a hand that beats a big portion of their strong range. Or, just call if you don't want to raise and bloat the pot yet.
- If they're strong, and WON'T fold to a raise, don't bluff raise them.
Sometimes, smaller bets can be useful:
Take Note of Sizing Tells
If you ever catch a bet sizing tell on a player, take note so you can exploit it in the future. For example, maybe you paid attention and saw four showdowns against Bob:
- 1st Hand: Bob made a ½ pot bluff cbet on the flop with AK.
- 2nd Hand: Bob made a ½ pot bluff bet on the turn with a gutshot draw.
- 3rd Hand: Bob made a ¾ pot value bet on the flop with a set.
- 4th Hand: Bob made a ¾ pot value bet when the 3rd spade hit the river, giving him a flush.
You might make this note on Bob: “1/2 pot = bluff!, 3/4 pot = value!; BEWARE HIS LARGER BETS”.
The exclamation marks within the note indicate that you’ve seen this play more than once (one “!” for each additional time you’ve seen it). Notes in all caps are instructions to yourself.
Now that you’ve spotted Bob’s bet sizing tell, you can get away from marginal hands against his bigger bets, and you can attempt bluff raising or bluff-catching by calling his 1/2 pot bets.
Check out this bet sizing analysis:
Your Chosen Bet Size
Every bet or raise you make MUST hit your opponent’s “pain threshold”. This means they have a difficult choice between folding, calling or raising.
If you make a bet, and they call easily, then you're either missing out on value or your bluff isn't working often enough. If it's too easy to find a fold, you're missing out on value because you bet too big or you overpaid for your bluff.
Here's a great example of this:
The cutoff player open-raised to 4bb's. You’re on the button and 3bet the minimum to 7bb's.
Does this player have a super easy call with almost 100% of his range? Absolutely, you raised it too small. If you held AA here, you’re missing out on value.
On the other hand, what if you were bluff 3betting to 7bb’s with A4s? Once again, they have a super easy call. Your bet doesn't hit their pain threshold and they’re not folding as often as you’d like.
And what if the players in the blinds are super fishy? They might call with the opportunity to see a huge 28bb pot with 4 players. You’re holding AA in the best position, but you have to dodge a lot of land mines in this 4-way pot because you 3bet way too small.
Your goal with every bet or raise is to hit your opponent’s pain threshold to give them a difficult choice. When it's hard for them to decide what to do, they end up making more mistakes which sends their chips into your stack.
Bet Size Recommendations
- Standard open-raise is 3bb with any hand worthy of open-raising. However, experiment with different sizes based on position. Right now, I'm going 3.5 UTG, 3 in MP and CO, 2 in the BTN and SB.
- Isolation raise size (raising over a limper): 4-5bb+1 per limper. So 1 limper, 5-6 bb
- 3bet in position: 9-10bb
- 3bet out of position: 9-12bb
- Adjust your sizing up/down to give you what you want. If you have AA and they're calling 15bb's, 3bet to 15bb's. If you want to steal the blinds, and you think a 2bb open is good enough in the CO, do it.
- Bluffing: go as small as you think will work, but it will often require 1/2 pot or greater.
- Value: go as big as you think will still get them to continue. Sometimes, feigning weakness with 1/4 pot bets can work (video above), so experiment with this.
- If they're not folding: go BIG for value (2/3 pot or greater and don't bluff).
Here's my challenge to you for this episode:
For the next 5 sessions you play, focus on the bet size your opponents make. Based on their bet size combined with player type, their range and the board, make a read on the strength of their hand. If you're not involved in the hand, decide how you would play against them. If you are in the hand, make a read and experiment with exploiting it.
- If you read weakness, maybe call with marginal pairs and good draws. Or, bluff raise to push them off.
- If you read strength into their bet size, make a quick fold with inferior hands or raise them big with your strongest hands.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game
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