Once you get past the poker strategy basics like starting hand selection and table position, a whole new assortment of intermediate strategy comes to surface. And one of the most crucial intermediate concepts that’s worth discussing in no-limit poker is bet sizing. What’s interesting about bet sizing is that every player does this in some capacity because the idea merely refers to how large you make any given bet. However, the key is to correctly size your bets to accomplish the desired goal, which we’ll discuss in-depth below.
Bet Sizing Goals
The best place to begin this discussion is with betting goals because there should be a definite purpose behind every wager you make. For example, if you believe that you’re ahead in a hand, your goal might be to extract the maximum amount of money possible without the opponent folding (value betting).
However, if you’re bluffing and want an opponent to fold, you’ll be looking to bet the minimum amount of money that would force a fold; this way, if you do get called or raised, you won’t lose as much money. The overall point is that you shouldn’t blindly throw chips out on the felt without having a plan.
Measuring your Bets
Now that we’ve covered the importance of making wagers with a purpose, it’s time to look at how you measure bets. Many players measure their wagers differently depending on whether they’re in a pre-flop or post-flop situation. For example, if the blinds are $1/$2 and a player opens the betting with an $8 pre-flop raise, they’ve just made a 4 times the big blind (bb) raise. Likewise, if a postflop pot is $20 and a player wagers $10, they’ve just made a half-pot-sized bet.
There are a couple of important factors as to why we use blinds and pot sizes as measuring sticks for bets and raises. The first is that measuring your bets can help you effectively make good wagers based on the table dynamic. For example, in a very loose freeroll poker tournament, you might need to make pot-sized bets or higher on bluffs to get players to fold. But in a tight mid-stakes cash game, a two-thirds pot-sized raise could be good enough to bluff certain players out of pots.
As for the second reason measuring poker bets is a good idea – it can force opponents to make unprofitable calls based on pot odds. For instance, if you believe that your opponent is on an open-ended flush draw (roughly 19% chance of hitting by the next card) and the pot has $80 in it, the most they can profitably call is 19% of the pot (based on pot odds). However, if you were to make a $20 raise (pot is now $100), pot odds indicate that this call is no longer profitable for them.
How Much should you Bet?
When deciding how much to bet at any given time, it’s really important to understand that the specific situation will dictate your decisions. So while making pot-sized value bets may work perfectly on a loose micro stakes cash table, you might have to scale this back in a tight mid-stakes game in order to keep players from folding.
Going further, it’s important to know your individual opponents when bet sizing. For example, let’s say you have pocket aces pre-flop, and you want to isolate a major calling station; here you might make a 5xbb-7xbb raise to get everybody but the calling station to fold. And by isolating this single opponent, your pocket aces have a better chance to win the pot post-flop while also giving you an opportunity to take this player’s whole stack.
Assuming you’re looking for a uniform raise to make until you better understand the table dynamic and individual opponents, a good pre-flop raise size is 3xbb-4xbb plus 1bb for every limper who enters the pot before you. So if there are two limpers out in front, you’d raise 5xbb-6xbb in hopes of pushing one of them out of the pot. As for post-flop bet sizing, a good place to start is either with a two-thirds or three-quarters pot-sized wager – depending on the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
Once you become more comfortable with your opponents’ playing tendencies, you can adjust your bet sizing appropriately. Also keep in mind that this concept may be tough in the beginning, but with more experience you’ll be able to effectively use bet sizing to make more money on the tables.