Theory Fundamentals - Bet Sizing

5 months ago - written by Sean Belton
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In this article, we’re going to take a look at bet sizing. Unfortunately, there is no “automatic” bet-size you can fall back onto, so we’ll discuss when and why to make different bet sizes.


Why do we bet in poker?


No, I’m serious, we are going to ask this question. I think a lot of players tend to “get lost” down the streets and don’t really know what they are looking to achieve with their bets. When we bet we want one of two things to happen: get worse hands to call (value-betting) or get better hands to fold (bluffing.)


There is an offshoot of bluffing, which is referred to as “equity denial.” This is, quite simply, getting your opponent to fold a hand that is worse than yours but still has a reasonable equity share. For example, let’s say we have and see a flop of . Our opponent is quite likely to fold a hand like to a bet because they have “missed” but really their hand has 29% equity versus ours.


While we are not really “bluffing” when we deny equity, we are still happy to get a fold from a hand that would otherwise win a decent percentage of the time.


When to Use a Small Bet Size



We should look to use a smaller bet size, somewhere between 25-40% of the pot, on dry or static board textures. Why?


  • Our opponents’ calling range is inelastic (ie the range of hands that they call with doesn’t change regardless of our bet size.) That means that our bluffs will have the same result whether we bet small or we bet big, so let’s risk less and bet small!
  • On static boards, most of the hands our opponents can have will have very little equity versus our value bets, so realistically betting small in the only way to get worse hands to call.
  • A lot of players, especially live, fold too frequently when they miss. This means we have less incentive to consider equity denial.


When to Use a Large Bet Size



We should look to use a larger bet size, around 85-100% of the pot, on wet or dynamic board textures. Why?


  • On dynamic boards, most of our value hands are vulnerable to being outdrawn. We want to charge as much as we can in order to maximise our value while we still have a strong hand. 
  • For obvious reasons, large bet sizes generate more fold equity. Since, on dynamic boards, our opponents’ calling range is likely to change based on how much we bet, we should bet more to make our bluffs more effective.
  • We don’t just want to deny our opponents equity, we also don’t want the board to deny us equity. For example, if we flop a king-high flush, we don’t want a fourth flush card to roll off on the turn or river, as that will kill our action versus worse flushes that would otherwise have paid us off.


When to Use an Overbet



We should look to overbet (anywhere upwards of 100% of the pot) when our range has an overwhelming advantage over our opponent’s range. Why?


  • We put our opponent in a very tough spot with their bluff-catchers, and ensure we win the maximum the times they do make the call.
  • On boards where we are able to have nutted hands but our opponent isn’t, our bluffs will be very effective when we overbet. The ace blocker on a three-to-a-flush board is a great example.
  • When we have a very strong hand, but the board risks reducing our hand to a bluff-catcher, overbetting should filter out the weaker drawing hands, giving us much better visibility on the river. Let’s say we have on a board. There are just so many bad river cards, and realistically a lot of hands to deny equity versus.


Make Sure You Consider Stack Depth


One more thing before we wrap this up. We need to make sure we take into consideration stack sizes when sizing our bets down the streets. We might follow all the advice above, and bet small on a dry flop, bet bigger when the turn brings a scary card, and then realise that we can’t bluff the river because our opponent only has a quarter-pot bet left.


How many times have you said or heard something along the lines of, “well I’ve only got this bit left, so I might as well put it in.” Make sure this doesn’t happen to you! Make sure you’re always thinking about the next street. Always consider your potential turn and river action when you bet the flop. We have to give our opponents something to think about, otherwise we’re making it too easy for them to play against us.


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