Proper bet sizing is one of the trickiest aspects of No-Limit hold’em. It’s what makes no-limit poker so much more complicated than fixed-limit. As a poker coach, the question I get asked about most often is about bet sizing. “I know I should bet here, I just don’t know how much to bet.”
While a complete discussion of bet sizing is beyond the scope of this article, there are a few general tips I can give. The most important part of good bet sizing is being goal oriented. We have to first think about what we’re trying to accomplish, who our opponents are, and then arriving at the proper bet size is simple.
Let’s take an example. Suppose it’s folded to me on the button. I have a hand like J7s – not great, but not complete garbage either. My opponents in the blinds are both tight but aggressive. They are going to fold quite often, but when they play, they are going to 3-bet me, and I’ll have to fold. However, I sure would like to take a shot at picking up those blinds. In this case, I want to raise as small as I can and still accomplish my goals. That way, I get a chance at picking up the blinds, but I also lose at little as possible when I get 3-bet.
If you look at Qui Nguyen’s strategy in From Vietnam to Vegas, you’ll notice that he almost always raised 2.5 times the big blind or smaller. His opponents were playing too tight, and so he wanted to pick up the blinds and antes as often as possible, while also being able to discard his weaker hands when he got 3-bet, with minimal losses.
Now, let’s take a different situation. This time we have AJo from the cutoff in a $1/$2 cash game. I’ve watched the players on my left, and they are real calling stations. The kind that, when they decide they want to see a flop, they don’t really care what the raise size is. Their calling range is inelastic (to borrow a term from economics). And, they rarely 3-bet without a monster hand. Against these guys, I’m going to raise bigger, 5x the big blind ($10), or heck, maybe $15. Why not? They like to call; it’s what they do best. They are going to call me with all kinds of hands like AT, Axs, KJs – lots of hands I have dominated. And in the rare case I get 3-bet, I just fold it.
I used the word inelastic above to describe an opponent’s range that doesn’t change regardless of your bet sizing. Of course, there are limits to that. If you open-shove pre-flop for 100 big blinds with pocket Aces, you won’t get called very often. That’s not to say you’ll never get called. You might be surprised. Your opponents will start wondering what kind of fool would shove for 100BB with pocket Aces. Occasionally one of them will find your move obnoxious and will call you with pocket 8s. Or, QJs when his favorite hand and “he just can’t fold it”. Some games have enough crazy people in them that, as sad as it is for all of us who study the game for a living, open shoving might actually be the optimal play with pocket Aces!
But let’s forget about that for a moment and assume our opponents are somewhat sane (a dangerous assumption). If that’s the case, there is a probably a range of bet sizes for which they will play the exact same way. Our job, is to use what we know about them (either them personally, or the general poker playing population) to figure out what that range of bet sizes is. And then, to skew our bet sizing to the top or bottom of that range, depending on our goals.
As a simple example, let’s take a continuation betting situation. We’re trying to decide on a bet size, and we predict that our opponent is going to play exactly the same way regardless of whether we bet ½ the pot, the full size of the pot, or somewhere in between. This might actually be a reasonable assumption against some players. Let’s say there is $20 in the pot. If they hit something and decide they want to see the turn, they are probably going to call any bet in the range of $10 to $20. If they have complete garbage, and were just trying to catch a lucky flop (and missed), they are probably going to fold to about any bet.
So clearly in this case, if we have a strong hand, we want to bet closer to $20 (for value). If we have air, we want to bet closer to $10 (as a bluff). Both bets will accomplish our goals, but we’ll get more money in the pot when we’re ahead, and we’ll save some money when we’re beat.
Of course, this is just scratching the surface. In my next article, I’ll talk about avoiding exploitable tendencies in our bet sizes. I’ll also discuss pot control, paying attention to stack depths, and future streets. Stay tuned!