Now we have a general idea of when and why to stay aggressive—pot equity and fold equity. So, when we are betting, how large should our bets be? In No Limit Hold ’em we have a lot of options.
For a while, there was a standard mantra for bet sizing. The accepted standard was to make a pot- sized bet on the flop, between 2/3 and 3/4 pot on the turn, and between 1/2 and 2/3 on the river. The assumption behind these bet sizes, particularly the river, was that a smaller bet would be called more often than a larger bet. The classic “don’t want to scare him away” thinking. This is dumb.
Most players make the decision whether or not to call, raise, or fold based off two main considerations:
- 1) Their cards. Most players won’t fold AA on a JT9 board when facing a ton of action because hey, they’ve got aces—even though they’re relatively unlikely to be ahead.
- 2) The board texture. QQ is likely to get a lot of money in as an overpair, but shuts down as soon as an A or K falls. The size of the bet facing them, in most scenarios, is a distant, distant third. Obviously, if we bet
$2 into a pot of $800, nobody is going to fold. And, if we bet $800 into a pot of $2, nobody is going to call without the nuts. However, let’s say the pot is $50. If he’ll call a $35 bet, what about a $36 bet? $38? $42? $48? Even if he is slightly less likely to call a $48 bet than a $35 bet, the extra money we make when he does call the larger bet more than compensates for the additional times he calls the $35 bet. So, when we’re trying to get value, bet bigger.
Sometimes, though, our value bets will be less cut-and-dried. If we have JJ on a T54J5 board, it’s very easy to bet for value. What if, on the same board, we have AT instead? How about T9? In all three situations, it’s likely we have the best hand, and we may decide to bet for value. If we bet with JJ, anything that calls us is worse so we can quite comfortably going for maximum value. With AT, some hands that would call our value bet are better (AJ, KJ, QJ, etc.), and some are worse (KT, QT, T9, T8). With T9, there are very few hands that are worse that could potentially call a bet (T8, 99, 88). So, if we bet large enough with T9 that our opponent is likely to fold hands like 88, suddenly the bet becomes bad—we can’t get called by worse. So, we need to choose a bet size that makes us sure he is still likely to call with weaker hands. So, I might bet very small with T9 on that board—possibly as small as 1/5 pot.
With AT, I might bet as small as 1/2 pot. This concept is called thin value.
Thin Value Betting means making a bet to be called by worse hands, accepting that better hands
will also call the bet and understanding that the value obtained from worse hands will be more than the money lost to better hands. The “thinner” your bet (i.e. the more better hands and the fewer worse hands that will call), the smaller your bet size should generally be. Sometimes, a bet will be so thin that you’ll need to make your bet very small—possibly as small as 1/5 pot at times. Other times, you may settle for half-pot as a thin value bet. The idea is to retain the very worst end of his range—hands that are weak enough that they will actually be affected by our bet size. Sometimes this means trying to get value out of Ace-high or bottom pair. In order to accomplish this, we usually have to reduce our bet size.
Sometimes you won’t have a choice as to your bet size in thin spots, unfortunately. I can recall one hand I played. I had a very wild image and had been 3-betting a lot preflop. I picked up QQ in the blinds and 3-bet a pro who had raised on the button. He called, and the flop came down A42. I bet for value, because I thought that with my image he could call me with worse hands and that he didn’t have too many aces in his range for calling my 3-bet preflop (as he’d 4-bet with AK). He called, which led me to believe that I was probably ahead—I expected him to raise with an ace to try and stack me if I had a hand like KK, QQ, or JJ. The turn card was a blank, and now I had a decision to make. If I bet for value, it would commit my stack as I had only a pot-sized bet left. If I checked, I could potentially miss value from a lower midpair like 88, 99, TT, or JJ. I realized my bet was thin—he could certainly have an A sometimes, or have flopped a set. But I shoved anyway, and with my crazy image, I was called by 99 and won a big pot. However, despite the results, I accept that sometimes in that spot I will be called by AT, AJ, 44, or other hands that have me beat. I have reason to believe that the value I gain from worse hands is enough to compensate.
Other times, good opponents will be able to tell that you are value betting thinly and will respond aggressively once they perceive your weakness. I can recall one hand I played against a very good high stakes regular. He had raised in the cutoff, and I called in the big blind with KQo. The flop came down K98r. I checked, he c-bet, and I made a somewhat thin check-raise for value. As I check-raise a lot of flops, I was pretty sure he could call me with a worse hand. He called, and I put him on a range of pair hands (anything from AA, AK, KJ, and KT to A9, A8), monsters (88, 99, 98, and the somewhat unlikely KK), and JT, QJ, and QT for straight draws. The turn card came a T (one of the worst cards in the deck for me), and I checked, planning on folding to a bet. He checked behind. At that point I excluded AA, 88, 99, QJ, and KT from his range, as I’d expect him to bet all those on the turn for value. I felt his most likely hands were JT or QT that picked up a pair on the turn. The river was a 2, and I decided to go for thin value. The pot was about $500, so I bet $250, hoping to get called by JT. He thought for a while, then raised all-in. It was another $1500 to me. I realized that my hand was perceived to be weak and that my opponent was very capable of applying pressure and being aggressive. Despite the possibility that he had slowplayed a big hand, I was relatively confident in my read, so I called and stacked his JT. After the hand, somebody asked me if I had bet small to induce a raise. No, I said, I bet for thin value. Inducing a bluff raise was just something that happened as a consequence of that.
Value betting is the way to beat poker. The more value we can squeeze out of hands that are likely ahead, the more money we’re going to make in the long run. Understanding how to change your value bet sizes depending on the “thinness” of your bet will help you get the maximum amount of value with your entire range.