Bet Sizing: A General Understanding
How is a bet size measured (in terms of whether it’s a small bet or big bet)?
Any bet in poker is relative to the amount of money that is in the pot (usually expressed as a fraction or percentage, such as ½-pot, or 50%-pot). Many beginning players make the mistake of choosing their bet sizes relative to the strength of their hand and how much money they have in their stack. (Sometimes completely disregarding altogether how much money is already in the pot).
This puts them at a disadvantage, however, and usually makes them easily readable (i.e. if they bet small with their weak hands and large with their stronger hands).
Merged vs Polarised
Many players adopt a polarised style of betting, meaning that they are betting/raising with either their strongest hands or bluffs. On the flop/turn, these “bluffs” are typically semi-bluffs. Players may currently have a weak hand with hopes of improving to a better made hand (i.e. high-card hand now looking to improve to a flush or straight).
On the river, all hand equities have been realised. Players either bet for value with their strongest hands or as a bluff with their weakest holdings. If players choose a merged style of betting, this means that their bet sizing may be smaller than if they used a polarised approach. This is done to accommodate a broader range of value combos into their range.
Pot-Limit vs No-Limit
Generally, all bet sizes are judged and determined relative to the current size of the pot (and we’ll get to what the various sizes mean later in this article). However, in pot-limit games, the maximum bet size or raise size that can be used would be equal to the size of the pot.
In no-limit games, a player can bet or raise as much as he likes at any given moment, which includes having the option to go all-in and bet the entirety of their stack.
Preflop Bet Sizing Considerations
In general, players should look to raise preflop anywhere between ½-pot and pot when they’re the first to enter the pot. Solvers such as PokerSnowie advocate a 2.25bb open-raise sizing from all positions (assuming a standard blind structure), except for the small blind. From this seat, a pot-sized 3bb open-raise size should be used (as you’ll be out of position on the big blind and want to discourage this player from seeing a cheap flop in position, as he’ll already have 1bb in the middle).
So, while anywhere from 2.25x to 2.5x may be considered the GTO standard, it doesn’t mean that this sizing should always be used, as there are many
further considerations to always make beyond that:
If you have a premium hand and there’s someone at the table that will call a 10bb open, then raise 10bb! Additionally, as more live players are likely to see flops for a lower price, you don’t necessarily want to see a 5-way flop with your strong hands, which is another reason why players increase their overall open-raise size for live play (for their entire range).
If there are any limpers, you should usually add 1bb/limper to your standard raise sizing when you choose to bump things up.
Another big blind can be added to a raise when a player is raising over limps or 3betting from out of position.
Stack sizes are also a significant consideration as to what raise size you bump it. With regards to tournament poker, stack sizes (in terms of the number of big blinds) decrease as the tournament progresses. Therefore, you especially don’t want to risk more than necessary with your bet sizes by blasting your open-raise/3bet/4bet sizings.
In theory, if you choose to alter your default open sizing to a larger size in a given situation, then your opening range should become smaller and narrower. Oppositely, the smaller raise size you use, the more hands you can include in your opening range.
Contrary to the last point, there’s also another school of thought on how players should vary their raise sizes based on position, and that is to open smaller from earlier position (UTG and HJ in online 6-max) and slightly larger from later position. The reason for this is that even if you open from early position with a strong range, you’re still going to be at a positional disadvantage against in-position callers.
Compare that to opening larger from later positions (like CO and BTN), whereby you’ll likely have position on your opponents, post-flop, if either of the players in the blinds continues, giving you a more substantial sized pot to win. Furthermore, by nature, the BTN and CO are where win rates are highest according to various positions. Therefore, bumping up your bet sizings slightly in these positions should theoretically add more money to your bottom line at the end of the day.
In certain situations, antes, straddles, or multi-blind structures will be used in a poker game. This affects the size of the pot before any cards are even dealt and should subsequently affect the raise size for opens. It’s also essential to account for how deep the average stacks are when accommodating for the extra dead money that may be in the middle (as well as what opening ranges you should use).
3bet / 4bet / 5bet+
3betting and 4betting have become much more frequent in preflop gameplay in the modern poker era. Therefore, it’s essential to understand how to make these re-raises optimally (re sizings, frequency, and ranges to use, etc.), and how to best interpret them so that you can counteract them more optimally.
Merged vs Polarised: The size of bet you make can determine how polarised or merged your 3betting+ ranges will be. Generally, if your 3bet is on the larger side, your range should be more polarised. This means you should be mixing in your strongest hands to re-raise for value along with a few bluffs (e.g. hands that might be too weak to call an original raise). The smaller you re-raise (especially when IP), the more merged (wider value/ less polarised) your range can be.
General Sizings: Solvers such as PokerSnowie generally advocate making pot-sized 3bets, both from in and out of position.
Exploitative Sizings: Versus many opponents, you might choose to make these default sizings bigger or smaller, depending on how wide, certain players will call, how well they play post-flop, and who will have post-flop position in the hand.
Large Sizings If you want to use a larger-than-normal re-raise bet size, then this should mean that your range is still polarised. But now it’s even tighter and more premium/top-heavy (i.e. maybe it would shift the value part of your 3bet range from being 99+, AQs+, AK to QQ+, AK, while simultaneously cutting out much – but not all – of your bluffing part of your range to compensate.)
Stack Sizes: The larger the stack sizes are, the bigger you can make your 3bets versus an open. This is to cut down on SPR post-flop, and so that Villain will not be getting the right implied odds to continue with as many combos vs your 3bet. The similar idea carries over for tournament stack sizes, allowing 3bet sizes to be typically smaller than those found in cash games.
IP/OOP: When 3betting in position, you can generally make your 3bets slightly smaller than you would from out of position. This is simply due to the positional advantage you’ll have from playing post-flop, assuming your opponent just calls and doesn’t 4bet.
Squeezes: Say you’re making a 3bet versus multiple players (i.e. Player 1 open-raises, Player 2 calls, action folds to you and you re-raise). Because of the extra money already in the middle from Player 2’s call, your 3bet sizing should be larger than if you were only against one player.
Defending Against 3bets
Postflop Position: If you’re defending against a 3bet, you can continue with a broader range of hands when IP vs when you’re out of position.
Sizing of 3bet Used: If Villain uses a smaller sizing of 3bet, the more hands you can call/continue with because you’d be getting better pot odds and implied odds than otherwise. The larger the sizing that is used, the narrower your continuing range, due to the same reasons.
Implied Odds: Many speculative hands, like smaller pairs and suited connectors, demand having good implied odds to continue. As the chance of flopping a set is about 8 to 1, many players recommend that you must have about 10 to 1 odds to see a flop with small pairs. For suited connectors, they suggest you have about 20 to 1 odds. As such, if you open-raise and Villain makes a large 3bet out of position (i.e. 3bb to 14bb with 100bb stacks), then you likely can’t include any smaller pairs or suited connectors in your continuing range. You wouldn’t get proper implied odds.
Position: If you open-raised and your opponent 3bet in position, then you should be 4betting a good amount of the time from out of position for a few key reasons:
it will be tough to extract value from out of position if you just flat your strongest hands;
it eliminates having to play a flop out of position and without the betting initiative;
you could win the healthy-sized pot preflop, whereas you can’t if you just call.
Sizing: There are two schools of thought on sizing. Generally, a 2.25x – 2.5x 4bet sizing is acceptable when OOP. (i.e. 2.5bb open, 8bb IP 3bet, 20bb 4bet). It should be noted that 4bet sizing can be smaller when a player is in position on their opponent. For example, AK might become a 3bet/call instead of a 3bet/5bet jam when the 4bet sizing is larger than normal, such as when it is pot sized.
Frequency/Range of Hands: Against opponents with high 3bet frequencies, you should be looking to 4bet a wider range of hands yourself, too, as many times you can pick up the pot preflop when your opponent simply folds. This can be done vs a small or large-sized 3bet, as long as your opponent has high 3bet % and high fold to 4bet %, too.
4bet Shove vs 4bet Small vs Flatting 3bet: Generally, if a typical 4bet sizing would mean that you commit 33% of your stack or more, then you should either choose to 4bet shove instead of 4betting small if you’re going to 4bet.
Defending Against 4bets
For the same reasons as the last point in the section on “Defending Against 3bets”, in slightly deeper cash games (i.e. ~125bb to 160bb effective stack sizes), it can be difficult to know what course of action to take vs certain 4bets. Many considerations will need to be made, including noting the 4bet size used (both relative to the remaining effective stack size and relative to the 3bet’s size). You should also consider postflop position, probable hand ranges, and any exploitative tendencies factored in.
In mega deepstack games, players will sometimes have the ability to put in a 5bet or 6bet without being all-in. In such cases, every time another re-raise is made, it’s crucial to realise that the value range of hands gets smaller and smaller. For this reason, players will sometimes flat a 4bet with 100% of their continuing range. This way, they get to keep their continuing range strong and uncapped without dividing it up further by having a weaker calling range that wouldn’t include the hands they’d typically 5bet.
Bet Sizing and Board Textures (Dry vs Wet Flops)
Many different considerations must be made when choosing what bet sizes to use. In this section, we’ll look at various sizes, along with the benefits/drawbacks, and when to use them.
Small Bet Sizes (25% to 33% of the pot)
Deny Equity: If you have a hand of weaker value, and it’s still vulnerable to overcards, a small bet protects your hand. It can deny equity to other hands that still carry decent equity against you. For example, say the board is A93, and you have 22. If you make a small bet, a significant number of hands that are just “high card hands” (like QJ) are put in rather tricky spots.
Therefore, a small bet will usually be all it takes to protect your hand and take down the pot, denying them from realising their ~25% flop equity in the hand.
Risk the Minimum: Similar to the last point, by betting small, you’re often risking the minimum to take down the pot. Most opponents will only call your 22 on A93 if they have a piece of the board or an underpair that beats yours. Therefore, if they’re going to call, they’re likely to have you beat.
You want to bet with your 2’s here often to deny free equity from other high card holdings. But in those times your opponent continues, by betting small, you save money when they’re going to call you anyway.
Keeps Your Opponent’s Range Wide: Another benefit of betting small is that you keep your opponent’s range wide. By keeping your opponent’s range wide, you also allow yourself to set up good situations for turn and/or river bluffs using a larger sizing at some point. In many cases, your opponent is going to fold when facing a larger bet size.
Bet With More Hands: Betting smaller allows you to bet with a broader range of hands. For this reason, it can be so common to use a smaller size on many flops, where ranges in the hand are going to be the widest. For example, if you choose to bet KK on an A95 flop, betting small will allow you to get called by many worse hands: a 9, a 5, a smaller pair, or any number of draws that choose not to raise.
By betting large, you will usually force out the draws (or even worse, get opponents to raise with them because they wouldn’t be getting proper odds to call, which would put your KK in an awful spot). Usually, you will only end up getting called more so by better hands like and Ace-X.
Therefore, large bets generally do better for polarised ranges and/or wetter boards, while small bets should be used for more merged ranges and on dry flops.
Dry Flops: A small bet size is going to be advantageous to use on dry flops. You don’t have to protect your value hands immediately from bad turn/rivers. There are no significant draws or ways Villain can suck out. Additionally, it will put Villain’s weak or marginal made hands in tight spots, either now or on later streets.
Furthermore, you’ll be able to bet a wider variety of hands with it. This play also will allow you to gain fold equity with a wide array of bluffs. Many Villains will check-fold to certain dry flop textures after missing, and a small bet enables you to risk the minimum in doing so.
Allows You To See Turn/Rivers Cheaply, if Villain just Calls: Imagine cbetting about 35% pot with KQ on a flop of 862. With many AX’s, Villain might fold them to the flop cbet (which means you fold out a better hand than yours – highly advantageous). However, if Villain does call and then checks to you inflow, this allows you to check back and see a free turn and river card.
Medium to Larger Bet Sizes (50% to 80% of the pot)
Gain More Value: By using a larger bet size, you gain more value from Villain’s weaker holdings, whenever he does choose to continue.
Your Range Will Be More Polarised: This is good for your semi-bluffs, as by including these with your strong value hands, you’ll gain more fold equity with them.
Build a Pot for Later Streets: The bet sizes in poker that you choose on earlier streets allow you to manipulate the pot size for later streets. This strategy can be advantageous when keeping a pot small (by using smaller bets) or when you’re looking to ideally get in stacks by the river (by using larger bets).
Allows You to Gain Value Before a Scare Card Hits: Having JJ on a 974 two-tone board is undoubtedly a vulnerable spot. Any Ace, King, or Queen could come (which might freeze you from getting additional value later in the hand). A variety of straight and flush cards could come on the turn or river that could also turn your hand into 2nd best hand. Betting large allows you to gain value from other hands and draws before you risk the chance of getting outdrawn.
Overbets (>100% of the pot)
Have a Nut Advantage: Larger, pot-sized bets and overbets should be used in ultra-polarised situations where you either have a nut advantage and/or block your opponent from having the nuts. If there’s a 3flush on board, for example, and you hold the Ace to that suit, betting or raising as an overbet with select AXo combos can be advantageous. Provided you can credibly represent that you might have played a nut-flush draw that way (as if you had AXs of the flush suit).
Tips on Value Betting and Bet Sizing: Flop and Turn
Think About Your Entire Range: It’s always important to think about how your entire range interacts with the board when deciding how much to bet. Yes, it’s sometimes okay to differ between using two bet sizes in a particular spot with two different ranges of hands. But when doing so, it’s essential to still keep all parts of your range well-protected.
For example, by always betting 100% of the time with your strong hands, you weaken your checking range substantially. Additionally, if you only bet big with strong hands, then your small bets will likely comprise your weaker and medium-strength hands, which makes you easily exploitable.
If you choose a larger-bet sizing for a situation, then might be advisable to put more of the weaker/small-bet size kind of hands into a checking range, instead of choosing to bet small with them.
Keep In Mind Your Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR) for Each Stage of the Hand: It’s always important to think about how much you bet on one street is going to affect the stack-to-pot ratio for future streets. For example, if you want to make a bet on a turn to set up a river shove, consider how much you should bet to accomplish this.
If the pot is 30bb and you each have 85bb remaining on the turn, a bet of 15bb would make the pot 50bb and your effective stacks on the river 60bb. This play makes it a slightly weird sizing for a river jam, based on the fact that it’d be more than the size of the pot.
However, suppose you use a sizing of 23.5bb. The pot would then be 77bb, and you’d each have 61.5bb left, which would make a river jam better priced at ~75% the size of the pot.
You can also manipulate stack sizes to your favour (as will be discussed in a future point). Perhaps you want to gain more fold equity with a river jam, which is why you bet 15bb into 30bb so that a river jam of 70bb into 60bb would be an overbet, likely gaining more fold equity.
Balance vs Exploitative: Exploitative bet sizings account for the exploitable tendencies of your opponent so that you can maximise your EV. For example, while raising the river with the nut flush blocker might be acceptable against a good, competent opponent, it should be done less frequently against a fishier, less-experienced opponent.
The fish has the general tendency to “play their hand,” be sticky (less likely to fold), and not necessarily think about the range of hands you may be trying to represent. At the same time, if you know a specific fish is more of a calling station, you can size up your bets larger than usual to gain a bigger profit.
Balanced sizings should be used against tougher opponents and divide draws and made hands appropriately into various parts of a betting/raising, check/calling/folding range.
Develop a Plan on the Flop for the Hand for Different Runouts: It’s essential to have a plan on the flop for how you’re going to play a hand before the turn/river cards come. Are you going to bet once as a bluff and give up? Does your hand bode well as a triple barrel?
To practise this, you might want to play with random flops for different hands and see how varying turn/river cards might affect equities for your hand vs your opponent’s range and how you might want to bet accordingly. (This can be done in equity/range calculator programs like the 888poker Odds Calculator.)
Using Various Bet Sizes Can Help You With Your Hand Reading: Just as you need to know how to manipulate your opponent’s range, you also have to be able to develop your hand reading abilities. How your opponent reacts to your bets (of various sizes) will tell you a lot about the strength of his hand. And knowing the likely hands and strength of hands that a player may have in their range allows you to manipulate it better to get the desired result whenever you’re employing an exploitable strategy.
River Bet Sizing: Bluffs and Value Combos
The river is an intricate street because all hand equities have now been realised. As such, river betting is slightly a different situation than betting the flop or turn because either you’re value betting, or you’re bluffing.
On the river, you should bet with a hand if you’ll get called 50% of the time or more by hands in which you beat. (NOTE: This should always be the case in cash games to push your margins for maximising all long-term profits. In tournaments, however, to preserve your tournament equity and for ICM considerations, it can be acceptable for this number to be closer to 60%.)
To remain unexploitable, a balanced strategy would include mixing in a select number of bluffs to the number of value hands you choose to bet. (NOTE: Often, especially against weaker players, using an exploitable strategy will reap you higher profits than if you’re trying to remain balanced with bet sizings and value to bluff combos.)
Here is a chart to show you the ratio of value hands to bluffs you should have on the river, if you wish to build a balanced strategy:
It’s interesting to note that the larger the bet sizing gets, the more bluffs you can include in the range (which is somewhat counterintuitive, as you would assume such a range would be more comprised of strong, top-heavy value holdings). Similarly, the smaller betting should include fewer bluffs but can consist of a wider (merged) range of value holdings.
Sometimes when doing off-table study, by looking at river bet sizings for various situations, you’ll have to include more value hands, in some instances, and more bluff hands in others than you typically would in-game. Doing this during study time is a necessary part of improving your game and plugging your leaks.
For which hands may be good candidates to bluff with, holding blockers that prevent your opponent from having some of the best possible hands in their range should be used. You can also include some of the lowest-equity hands in your range.
Miscellaneous Bet Sizing Tips
Bet Sizing in Poker Tournaments
As the number of big blinds in an average stack size will continue to diminish as a tournament progresses, this will significantly affect all aspects of bet sizing. Open-raise sizings will go down, along with typical and subsequent 3betting and 4betting sizes (if applicable).
Furthermore, it’ll be very common to see slightly smaller-sized bets than typically used post-flop, especially in the later and final table stages of the tournament. This situation occurs most notably because of ICM considerations and the increasing value of each chip in one’s stack as the tournament progresses.
Stack Depths and Bet Sizing
Various stack depths will undoubtedly affect how big one’s bets and raises can and should be, most notably due to the SPR that will be created in postflop situations. In general, the larger the stack, the larger your preflop 3bets+ can and should be, to manipulate the SPR. (Preflop open-raise sizings should generally stay the same in relation to the blinds/antes/straddles used).
Smaller stacks can subsequently use smaller 3bet sizings. For postflop bet sizing, SPR should always be taken into consideration, no matter how big the original stack sizes were, at the start.
Bet Sizing and Poker Tells
Sometimes, players can unintentionally reveal the strength of their hand depending on a bet size they choose. They might bet much larger than they typically would, in certain situations, to try and get a fold, out of their opponents. Other times, they might use a smaller bet sizing than they should to “milk a call”.
Be sure to always be on the lookout for exploitative tendencies that Villains may have with regards to bet sizings so that you can appropriately interpret these tells. Learn how to best counteract them and/or deviate your standard gameplay strategy to do this.
Sets/Trips: Bet Sizing (i.e. on Flushed Boards)
In having played with poker training more in recent months, one of the things that stuck out involved using small bet sizes on the turn or river situations with exceptionally strong hands, even in scenarios where Villain likely has a hand of considerable strength as well. Trying to think of the logic behind this, it made sense to realise that we aren’t betting this small only with our strongest hands, but rather with a broader range of value hands altogether.
An added benefit of betting smaller with a wider value range is that it can very much induce opponents to take a risk and raise you in situations. Perhaps they’ll interpret your small sizing on a wet board as weakness. This strategy can be extremely beneficial when you’re holding hands of extreme strength. You can sometimes gain more value from inducing a bluff-raise than you can only from targeting specific value hands.
Bet sizing is an often-overlooked aspect of poker gameplay. While many players are busy thinking about range compositions and board textures, all of the many variables of the game carry with it a composite effect that is based on the bet size used.
Be sure to bookmark this guide and come back to it as necessary to refresh yourself on when particular sizings might be more preferential over others.
Good luck at the felts!