Postflop: Time to Play Poker, Bet Sizing—Setting Up For a Shove

One of the most common problems of small- and micro-stakes players is bet-sizing. They have a strong hand they want to go all-in with. So they bet or raise and somehow end up with 80BB at the river in a 50BB pot.

Other times they end up with such a small stack that bluffing the river becomes ineffective. Suppose the pot is 90BB and they have 40BB left. If they bluff all-in, Villain will call much more often because of such great pot odds. The ideal stack size you should have by the time you commit yourself should be two-third to a full pot size. If you are a few big blinds over or under, that’s fine.

Let’s see how we can employ bet-sizing in our favor in a few situations.

An important note regarding bet sizing is to remember to cater to the fish. In other words, if you are playing against a bad player who is also a calling station, don’t use standard bet sizes. I have seen many students leave money on the table because they fail to extract maximum value from their hands.

You should raise really big in this spot. Fish don’t like to fold, so if he has an ace, he’s going to call no matter what. In this hand, you should make it at least $25 to go. You want to build the pot so that it’s tougher for Villain to fold in later streets. A mistake I see all the time is to raise to $15 to keep the fish in. If he has anything he likes, he will call and you have a chance to stack him. If he has air, he’s not going to call a small raise. Of course, against a regular player, I would never make it $25 to go because it is so tough for me to balance this in future hands. I want to be able to bluff-raise this flop sometimes, so I will make a small raise with my strong hands.

Another common mistake my students make involves incorrect bet sizes against fish who call too much on the flop and turn. My students would bet a standard 2/3-pot on the flop and turn. This bet sizing bloats the pot so that a bad player will have a hard time folding a pair on the river. A more efficient betting pattern against bad players who like to call a lot on earlier streets is to bet 1/3-pot on the flop and turn and 2/3-pot on the river. There are two reasons for this. First, it keeps the pot small at the river so that players are less inclined to call your river bet because there’s less money out there. Second, they will get to the river with wide ranges and will often fold to a big bet.

Important Note: Knowing how to play well against a fish is probably the most important skill because at the end of the day, that’s where the majority of your winnings will come from. Being able to play well against regulars is good, but being able to play well against fish is even better.

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