PokerPAL: Size Matters, Again!
Friday, 30 March 2012
You may think that I am obsessed with size, having talked about it in relation to MTTs last month. However, this month we will be looking at cash game bet-sizing, and in particular six-max NLH.
It is good to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve before any hand starts so you know exactly what to do in terms of bets pre-flop and post-flop. It’s essential that you know the reasons for making a bet. The main two are:
1) Betting for value (hoping to get action from a worse hand).
2) Betting as a bluff (getting a stronger hand to fold).
Once you understand the fundamentals of poker, opponent profiling and hand-reading it’s time to delve deeper into your game to increase your win-rate. Examining your bet-sizing in more detail will reap the rewards.
Basic Bet Theory
When you’ve decided that to bet is the optimal play, you then need to choose the optimal amount for what you want to achieve. One of the first pieces of advice I was given was to try to get away with bluffing as small as you can and use big value bets to extract the maximum from your opponents. This still applies to playing online today but usually only works against fish and those not paying attention, such as multi-tablers playing too many games to notice. However, this will not work against good regulars, so you have to balance your bet sizes.
You need to maximise your wins and minimise your losses while also concentrating on not giving your opponents the correct odds to hit their draws. To do this, your bets must be determined with the size of the pot in mind. When you give you opponents the incorrect odds to make a call, then you are making a plus EV play and your opponents are making a fundamental mistake.
There are a couple of schools of thought with regard to the opening raises pre-flop. Some, including myself, favour a standard opening raise of 3xBB from all positions unless there is a good reason to change it. This is because I play a wide range of hands from all positions. The other main thought is to adjust your raise size in relation to the strength of your range. So you would raise 4xbb from UTG (playing very strong hands) and reducing it gradually to about 2.5xbb on the button.
Whichever you decide to adopt, I would recommend that you make the following adjustments. Add at least an extra big blind for each player that has limped before you. Also, if there are fish on the table, increase the size of your raise when you are value-betting. You might find that they will call a 6xBB raise or more with any two cards. You can also lower your raise on the button to a min-raise against certain players in the blinds, such as those that 3-bet you often or very nitty players that fold the majority of their hands.
You may not believe that changing your bet sizing will impact your win-rate much, but it will. Let me just illustrate the point with the following examples.
Imagine you are full stacked, with 100bb on a $100nl table and you play the following two pots. For both pots, let’s say that you have hit the board big enough to go for three streets of value and you have a bad, passive player calling you down. In Pot 1, you bet half pot post-flop, and, in Pot 2, you bet the entire pot throughout the hand. In both pots, you raise x3BB pre-flop from the button and are called by the big blind only.
Flop: $7 pot. Bet: $3.5 and get called.
Turn: $14 pot. Bet $7 and get called.
River: $28 pot. Bet $14 and get called.
Total pot = $56
Flop: $7 pot. Bet: $7 and called.
Turn: $21 pot. Bet: $21 and called.
River: $63 pot. Bet: $63 and called.
Total pot = $189
The last bet in the second example would probably be a shove and you would then have managed to get your entire stack in, compared to only a quarter of your stack when betting half pot. Increasing the size of your bets early in the hand compounds the betting on later streets.
There won’t be many opponents that let you value-bet against them like that, so you will probably have to reduce the size slightly. Scholars of the game say that the ideal bet-sizing is the one that makes your opponents make the biggest mistake, and they recommend betting between two thirds and three quarters of the pot.
When you make a bluff post-flop, you should think about it as a simple maths equation. You are risking X to win Y. You should estimate how often your opponent will fold to your c-bet and reduce the size of your bet accordingly, until you’re making the optimum play. You may find that some opponents will have already made up their mind whether to continue solely based on their hand strength, and you can get away with bluffing really small versus these players. The reverse is also true, so then the risk reward becomes too small and bluffing is not a profitable option.
For value-betting, however, you’re hoping that your opponent continues in the hand and you should bear in mind that you need to be ahead of at least 50% of their continuance range. Against the calling station, you should be looking to make bigger bets to extract the maximum value. Against a nittier opponent who tends to fold a lot of their weaker hands, you should be careful with your value bets and even consider lowering your bet sizes. Betting huge with a one-pair hands is counterproductive. Your opponent will only continue with hands that have you crushed. You are effectively value cutting yourself.
Bet-sizing for double-barrelling
I’ll finish with an advanced concept for you to think about. Whenever you bluff the flop you should have a contingency plan should you get called. Changing your bet-sizing on the flop gives you some manoeuvrability on the turn. This is good to attempt when you hold some over-cards with backdoor potential. Your aim is to contort your opponents range by decreasing the size of your flop bet to allow him to call with a wider and ultimately weaker range. Subsequently, your success-rate for a double-barrel bluff will increase.
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