Creativity is an interesting word in the context of poker. Undoubtedly, it’s a good thing to be creative. However, most players who try to be “creative” just end up spewing money like crazy—in the same way that people who watch videos of creative players like Cole South lose money when they try to mimic Cole’s actions. The truth is that creativity works together with ability. When we discussed the three advantages of Isolation Theory, Skill Advantage was particularly important. It makes sense, then, that better players are thinking deeply enough about the game to be successfully creative without spewing chips.
Unexpected bet sizing is one way to be creative. First, let’s talk about overbetting.* There are some very good times to overbet:
- For value against a player who likes to make big calls (either a fish or a regular player who you’ve seen make big calls). This might mean overbet shoving 44 on an A457A board against a fish, or overbet shoving AA against a good player in a 3-bet pot on the turn on a T♥4♣3♦K♥ board (essentially trying to represent a bluff or semibluff).
- As a bluff against a player who almost certainly has a weak hand and is likely to fold. For example, let’s say that the Button (a good regular) raises, and I call in the BB with 8♠7♠. The flop comes down J♣4♣5♠. We check, and he checks back. The turn is a T♦. This is a spot where I usually bet twice the pot—it’s extremely unlikely that he’d check any good hand back on the flop, and calling a 2x bet on the turn is a difficult proposition for a hand like A6 in villain’s position.
- For image purposes. If you KNOW that your opponent will not call a bet (even a normal sized bet), this is often a good time to make a large overbet with a very weak hand—with the intention of showing. I recall playing against Cole South. I raised 67s in the SB, he called in the BB. The flop came down J86. I bet, he called. The turn was a Q. I checked, he checked. The river was a 2. I checked, and he bet 1000 into a pot of 400. I folded and he showed 54. Later in the session, Cole made a similarly large overbet against me when he was holding the nut full house. Clearly, the first overbet comes at a time when I can’t possibly call, whereas the second one came at a time where he thought a call was likely.
Essentially, you overbet when your opponent’s likely action is well defined. If he can’t have any kind of strong hand, overbet as a bluff. If he likes to make big calls, overbet with the nuts. If he plays solid, create image with overbet bluffs when he’s certainly going to fold and manipulate that image later.
We’ve talked about overbetting, what about underbetting? Well, we’ve already mentioned betting small in thin value spots. But what about betting really small? How about minbetting? Believe it or not, there are times when minbetting is a pretty good play. Let’s say, for example, that it’s extremely likely for our opponent to have a missed draw. We had AK against a bad player (especially an aggressive-bad player) on a 6♥5♥2♣J♣2♦ board. Once villain checks the river, we feel confident that our hand is best. We also think that he’s extremely unlikely to call any kind of large bet with a worse hand. We also think that he’s extremely unlikely to raise any kind of bet with a one-pair type hand. So, this is a pretty decent spot to minbet with the intention of calling a raise, as villain’s range polarizes as soon as he raises our minbet, and given flop/turn/river action it’s not very likely he has a strong hand.
This actually relates to another concept that we’ll call Pseudo-Thin Value. Pseudo-Thin Value isn’t thin at all. As previously discussed, Thin Value relies on our opponent calling a bet with the weaker hands in his range. However, sometimes it will be clear that our opponent holds ONLY weak hands and that ANY hand we bet for value will rely on the same principles of thin value. We could have the nuts, but our opponent is simply unlikely to pay us off, so we have to bet smaller and try to squeeze out as much value as we can.
Let’s say that we have A♠A♦, we raise, and a good player calls. The flop comes down A♣3♠6♠. We bet, and he calls. The turn is the case A♥. We bet again, and he thinks and calls. The river is a T♥. It’s basically impossible for him to have any kind of hand that can call another bet on the river, despite us
having the immortal nuts. So, despite our initial inclination to go for maximum value, we have to recognize that he is incredibly unlikely to pay us off without some extreme image considerations. So, we bet smaller and hope that he comes along with the weaker hands in his range. Obviously this entire concept is invalid if we think he can call us with a lot of worse hands, in which case we revert back to maximum value.
A better example might exist if we held 6♠6♥ on a 7♠5♠2♥ flop. We bet the flop for value and to collect dead money, and a passive-bad player calls us. The turn is a 2♦ and our opponent checks. We decide that a value-bet would be too thin, so we check. The river is a 3♥, and our opponent checks again. At this point, our opponent likely doesn’t have anything at all, but it’s also incredibly difficult for us to get called by a worse hand. So, instead of making a normal value bet, this would be a good spot to bet extremely small, to either induce a call from a hand like A5 or to induce a raise from something like 89.
Choosing creative bet sizes is an extension of being both a good hand-reader and a player who is in tune with the development of image. You can use creative bet sizes to induce light calls or bluff raises, to set up a big payoff later, or to apply unexpected pressure and force your opponent to fold. These options take us beyond a simple ABC game and into being an elite poker player.
*There is a more recent discussion of over-betting in the chapter “Advanced Bet Sizing”.