Much like the beginnings of any great love affair, your passion for poker probably didn't begin with many considerations for practicalities. Invariably crucial, but nevertheless decidedly unromantic concepts like equity, expected value, and the topic of today's lesson, bet sizing, were probably overshadowed and likewise overlooked in lieu of the more tantalizing terms and sexy concepts like 'tilt' and 'busting out' and bluffing like a Hollywood bad ass. We get it. It is pretty enticing – but do you know what's also enticing? Winning. The only way you're going to sustain the spark in any relationship is to embrace the nitty-gritty everyday hard work that goes into keeping the love alive.
Why Bet Sizing is Important
Bet sizing, which basically refers to making the optimal sized bet at any given stage in the hand, allows you to maximize your wins and, consequently, also decrease your losses. One of the most notable ways in which it allows you to win more often is simply by giving your opponents poor odds in the event they want to call with a drawing hand.
When it comes to no-limit poker, bet sizing isn't only important, but vital since the bet sizes are one of the key factors players can use to drive, stall or stop the action. After all, nothing will stop an opponent in their tracks like a monster raise.
How to Size Your Bets
There is no absolute rule for how much to bet when it comes to bet sizing. The best way to look at it is on a case by case basis, with every bet being a reflection of the size of the current pot. As we've already mentioned, effective bet sizing allows you to give your opponents poor pot odds, and poor pot odds mean they are less likely to fight you for the win. Even if they do call you with bad odds, they are making a mistake - and when your competition messes up, you cash in.
Bet Sizing: Rule of Thumb
OK, we know we said there is no concrete number for bet sizing, but, a general guideline that works well (especially for beginners) is 3/4 (or 75%) of the pot size. This amount is enough to give your opponents those poor pot odds we talked about, but also give you the chance to score more in the event your opponents use those poor odds and a poor hand to call anyway.
Keeping your bets pretty consistent in terms of percentage (though not exact amount, since that will vary based on the amount in the pot) will also keep your opponents in the dark about the actual strength of your hand. This is especially true with flop bets. Think of it this way: if you consistently bet ¾ of the pot, other players won’t be able to tell if you’re continuation betting or if you have a made hand.
The Exception to the Rule
Nothing is written in stone when it comes to bet sizing, so it isn't totally out of the question to make smaller bets on occasion. By smaller, we mean 1/2 the pot or less. Since making a smaller bet gives our opponents better pot odds, we should only make these wee wagers when you know for sure your opponent is NOT going to get the better of a draw and you also know that your opponent will not call a large bet. Being able to know how to play drawing hands and accurately read your opponent is a skill that comes with many, many, MANY rounds at the tables. For the most part, however, it's best go big or go home.
The Perks of Living Large
Bet sizing big has its undeniable benefits, like giving us an information advantage (we can test the mettle of our opponents' hands and learn valuable information about how they play when put under pressure) and, as mentioned, we also get more value from each bet. While concepts like table image, player type, odds and value betting may not seem that titillating, understanding them thoroughly and utilizing them correctly results in big, beautiful bankrolls - which is about the most attractive thing we can think of, in our books at least.
Unfortunately, beginners can get off to a rocky start because they shy away from making bigger bets. Admittedly, it can be intimidating and sticking to the minimum required bets can feel safer. However, it’s not. Not only do minimum or small bets give your opponents the right odds to call you, but when you bet small pre-flop, it also gives them decent odds to outdraw you (i.e. make their hand on the flop, turn or river).
Bet Sizing Pre-Flop
With this in mind, if you are going to bet pre-flop, go for 3 - 4 times the size of the big blind. The only time you may want to up the ante a little is when you've noticed there’s one (or more) person who enters a pot by calling (most often the big blind) rather than raising. These people are called limpers, and you can usually scare them off with a more substantial bet that - again - decreases their odds.
So, for example, if the stakes are $2/$5, betting $25 or $30 should do the trick.
You can't control everything at the tables, but bet-sizing allows you to use the control you do have to your full advantage by taking active, aggressive measures that take the initiative and help ensure the ultimate success of your hand.