A DISCUSSION ON BET SIZING

Because of the amalgamation of information available to us on 2+2, training websites, etc., we tend to look at bet sizing in a very standard procedural way. Let’s assume we are playing $1/$2 NL with 100 big blind stacks. Our opponent raises his button to $6 and we are dealt AcKs.Knowing nothing about our opponent, how should we proceed?

Give this question to 95% of the regular contributors on this forum and their answer would be to put in a reraise of between $19 and $23. Most would probably pick an amount between $20 and $22. This is probably a very reasonable answer, and, given absolutely no history with the villain, I too would make a bet in this range. I tend to prefer $22 at 1/2, $41 at 2/4 and $61 at 3/6. While this doesn’t make mathematical sense, it satiates my desire to bet in numbers that create aesthetically pleasing chip arrangements on Full Tilt’s software.

The point is, however, that we have been trained so well that we always seem to know the “right” amount to bet in any situation. We know that if we put our opponent on a weak holding, and want to extract some thin river value, we should tend to bet about 40-55% pot. We know that we should continuation bet $28-$32 when we reraise to $22 at 1/2 and get flatted. We see people make bets like $4 into a $30 pot and automatically label them as fish. We have in short become machines, trained to recognize the “correct” amount to bet and trained to sniff out our opponent’s holdings based on the amount he bets.

Why then do so few regulars fail to take this one simple step further and trick their opponents by varying their bet sizing and considering the instinctive reactionary effects that various bet choices will have on their opponents?

Let me give some simple examples.

Example One: Getting Tricky Before the Flop

We are playing a regular at $1/$2. He seems fundamentally solid and is certainly a winner in these games. We are playing him on two tables and have been for twenty-three minutes. Over this time, he is up about half a buy-in when we both flopped top pair in a single raised pot and he got three streets of value. We have been three-betting fairly actively (to $22), as has our opponent (though he prefers $21). Many 3bet pots have been taken down with just one c-bet, though in several the player on the button has raised, and in a couple the player on the button has called the flop and folded the turn. Our opponent has chatted briefly in chat and seems friendly and congenial. He is from the United States. He has the fish avatar.

110 BBs deep, We are dealt 9c7d in the big blind and our opponent raises the button to $6 (as he has done roughly 90% of the time). We decide that our hand is too weak to flat so our options are folding or 3betting. However, our opponent has been defending a lot of 3bets, so we are not in love with that option. What should we do?

Well we can certainly fold and that would be a perfectly reasonable play. However, I think this is a pretty interesting time to 3bet to $18. This is clearly not a misclick and will certainly confuse our opponent, especially if, up until this point in the match, our bet sizings have all been standard amounts. It’s certainly safe to say that our opponent will likely proceed somewhat more cautiously, and at the very least, more straightforwardly, to this raise sizing.

The flop comes 8d5h3s. We bet $21 and our opponent calls. The turn is the 3s. We bet $35 and our opponent calls. The river is the Ts. We shove all in for $145 into a pot of $150 and our opponent tanks, hits time and folds 77.

This entire sequence of events may seem somewhat unorthodox, but I purport that it was all carefully planned and well executed. Our opponent may have folded his pocket sevens if we had made a standard 3bet and standard flop and turn bet sizings, but I think he would have been much more likely to stack off, especially given our lightish 3betting history. He also would have been reasonably likely to call a $75-$85 river bet for sheer curiosity’s sake.

But your average winning $1/$2 TAG simply will not call this full pot sized bet because our line simply looks so foolish that it just HAS to be a big hand like AA or KK. We have been playing reasonably well and not doing anything completely out of line. Our brief interactions in chat suggest that we view each other as “in the same boat” – winning regulars at these stakes who probably should be bumhunting but enjoy the challenge. Now we have taken a completely unorthodox line, 3betting small, betting small on the flop, small on the turn and now shoving the river — how could we possibly be weak? Simply put, our opponent is under the assumption that we are not stupid enough to take this line as a bluff. So our solid 23 minutes of play has earned us this opportunity to seize 3 streets (including preflop) of dead money away from our opponent, and simply force him to fold his hand on the river.

Example Two: Rivering the Unlikely

We are playing a decent, but not great player at $1/$2. Our opponent’s major leaks are that he is a bit of a calling station, and loves to put his opponent on missed draws. He is the type who will bet 2 pair on the flop, check the turn when the 3flush hits, and flat call the river when bet into. He’ll almost never continue firing the turn when the 3flush hits, and if he did, it would almost never be with the intention of bet/folding.

120 big blinds deep, we are dealt Ac2c and defend our big blind to our opponents $6 raise. The flop comes KhTc2d. With bottom pair and a backdoor flush draw, we check-call his $10 bet. The turn is the 3c, giving us a flush draw. We check-call a $24 bet. The river is the beautiful 2s, giving us a very concealed trip 2s. With $80 in the pot, and stacks of $200 behind, our opponent bets $45 into $80.

Let’s take a moment to consider our opponent’s likely range and make the proper raise sizing based on that range of hands. We can assume that it is very likely that our opponent has a hand like QhTd. With this hand, given what we know about him, he would likely check back the turn with the intention of often calling a river bet. We can also assume that with a hand like 77 or 88, he would usually check back the turn, and maybe give up on the river, or maybe pay off a bet. So his most likely hands are either value hands like KQ,KJ,KT,Kx,TT, or bluffs (likely with some equity) like AQ,QJ,AJ, that missed and are deciding to barrel.

Because we can reason that our opponent likely has a polarized range, there is no sense raising small to get value from his “thin value bets,” because we know that he’ll rarely value bet worse than a king on this board. We also know that our opponent has a propensity to pay off when the draws missed. Well, every single draw on the planet missed here. This is a perfect opportunity to bet the farm. Raise all in.

I see so many people missing value here by check-raising to $105 or $133, fearful that a bigger check-raise will scare their opponent off. While we should always be cognizant of value raising to the exact amount that maximizes our money won in the pot, this is a simple situation where moving in is by far the best play. The nature of the board texture, coupled with our opponent’s stubborn and paranoid tendencies make jamming ultra effective as he will perceive it to be extremely bluffy. Don’t make a smaller raise because you are scared that your opponent will occasionally fold. Remember that if our opponent will call a jam here 75% of the time and call a raise to $105 95% of the time, we should absolutely be jamming.

Example Three: Getting Cute

While some people make “cute” plays far too often, there are absolutely situations in which it is correct to get cute. Let us take the example of an opponent who is what we would classify as a bad LAGtard. He can beat 50nl and 100nl by simply overpowering his opponents but he consistently loses when he tries to move up. He is simply too aggressive for his own good.

We open 9s7s on the button to $6 at $1/$2 NL. Our LAGgy opponent flat calls, so we know that he‟s not suited. The flop is a beautiful Jh7d7c. He checks, and we make our continuation bet of $8. (We have been betting $8 instead of $10 against this opponent, who check-raises often). As expected, our opponent check-raises to $26. This is the sort of board that we expect our LAGgy opponent to attack relentlessly. He figures that it is unlikely to have hit our hand and that he can simply take it down.

Here is a great opportunity against a lot of opponents such as this to click it back. I will often literally reraise the minimum in this spot and watch with glee as he jams all in drawing dead. This is a great opportunity to reraise really small to induce a reaction from our slightly spastic opponent.
Another great option, however, is to flat call. But if you‟re going to flat call, it is imperative to play the turn correctly. When we flat call, our opponent is pretty likely to give us credit for a jack or a seven (though he may figure we are floating some percentage of the time). In spots like this, even the LAGgiest of opponents will often check the Kc turn. He‟s basically conceding that he was, in fact FOS, and that the pot is ours.

Betting $41 on the turn would usually be a mistake against this opponent, and checking behind would also be an inferior option. The best play in a spot like this is to bet something like $9 or $12. Our opponent will often trick himself into believing that we floated him on the flop and are now cheaply taking down what we assume to be our rightful pot. Even if he doesn‟t go through any of this thought process, his ego and maniacal tendencies will often take over and he will impulsively find himself into hitting the raise button. I have some components of maniac in my poker DNA, and must admit that I have felt magnetically compelled to hit RAISE in spots like this before. Raising to $26 and then check-folding to a $12 bet is a humiliating experience that nobody wants to be a part of. Force your opponent to allow his ego to overcome reason. Humans are inherently emotional creatures – use this to your advantage.

10 Thoughts to Mull Over When Sizing Your Bets

1. If your opponent has been folding to a lot of 3bets, scale down the size of your continuation bet when he does call you. His preflop play seems to indicate that he is playing his cards fairly “as is” and we can expect him to not take advantage of a smaller c-bet with a combination of loose floats and bluff raises. C-bet $23 into $44 instead of $30.

2. If your opponent is suspicious and stubborn, overbet for value. 3. If your opponent is meek and timid, overbet as a bluff.

4. If your opponent is European, and the board is draw heavy, make your turn raises with your sets enormous.

5. Consider thin value overbets vs thinking opponents when you can’t represent a value hand that would be worthy of an overbet.

6. Consider betting absurdly small amounts to induce when you are nearly positive that your opponent is check/folding to a normal sized bet.

7. Consider betting small with biggish hands to represent thin value, thereby inducing a call or even a value raise (!) from hands that would otherwise fold to a normal sized bet.

8. Every once in a while (don’t get carried away), just overbet donk the river with air on a random river card when you have check-called two streets and have otherwise been playing a very straightforward, solid game.

9. Against fish who limp and call often, test their limits. See if they will limp-call $10 at $1/$2. Maybe they’ll limp-call $15. Annoy them by varying your button raise sizing and raising their limps to various obnoxious amounts. As your play becomes (at least ostensibly) increasingly erratic, their propensity to hit the FOLD button will diminish. Eventually they will be limp-calling $50 raises.

10. Experiment with different four-bet sizings ranging from absurdly small to slightly big. If your opponent is folding to a small four-bet, you are wasting money by making it too big.

8 Bet Sizes That Tend to be for Value at 1/2 and 2/4

1. $142
2. $102
3. $88
4. $52
5. $66
6. $152
7. $33 (this one is admittedly surprising)
8. $36 (typically in the form of a pot sized bet after an $18 3bet, and always, I repeat, always, for value).

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