Bet Sizing: The Mark Of A Champion

People play a card game. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

Knowing when to bet is a must when you’re playing poker. Knowing how much to bet is what separates the pros from the Joes.

If you’re playing No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) like most people, you can bet anywhere between the minimum and your entire stack in most cases.

That’s what makes this game so thrilling – and so difficult to master.

Even if you’re playing Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), you can still bet up to the size of the pot, giving you plenty to think about while you’re at the table.

That’s why we’ve recommended in this space that you play Fixed-Limit games when you’re just starting out, so you can prune your decision tree as much as possible and keep things simple while you’re learning the ropes.

How Do You Tackle Bet Sizing

So how do you tackle bet sizing once you’re ready for big-game hunting? Glad you asked. Here’s a quick primer on the fine art of sizing your bets when you’re at the table.

We’ll be focussing on situations where only two players are left in the hand, but these tips can be useful in multi-player situations as well.

  • Stage 1: Keep It Constant When you’re just getting started with “big bet” games like NLHE and PLO, it’s a very good idea to keep your bets the same size all the time – maybe half-pot, maybe three-fourths of the pot.
  • Again, this will keep your decision tree as small as possible, and it will disguise the strength of your hand so your opponents can’t get a read on you.
  • Stage 2: Assume The Position Once you’re comfortable with making that single-size bet, it’s time to branch out and try two different bet sizes: a smaller bet when you’re out of position (say, one-third of the pot), and a larger bet when you’re in position (maybe two-thirds of the pot).
  • You’re more at risk when you have to act first, so a smaller bet is usually the right choice in this situation.
  • When you’re in position, you have a significant advantage over your opponent, so it’s usually a good idea to press that advantage with bigger bets.
  • Stage 3: Bet The Board Now we move to arguably the most important adjustment for your bet sizing.
  • Your chances of winning or losing depend heavily on which cards are visible to everyone; in “flop” games like NLHE and PLO, that means the community cards are in the center of the table.

Ideally, you’ll size your bets according to which cards hit the board. Reading the board’s texture (i.e. how the community cards interact) is one of the most important poker skills you can develop.

Static vs. Dynamic Boards

Static Boards

Generally speaking, boards can be either static, meaning the next card that’s dealt probably won’t change things much, or dynamic, meaning the next card could swing the advantage from one player to the other.

Here’s a classic example of a static (sometimes known as dry) board in Hold’em: King-Seven-Deuce rainbow, meaning all three cards on the flop are of different suits.

With a board like this, the turn card isn’t likely to shift the balance of power, so if you’re already the aggressor, you can once again press your advantage with a big bet – maybe even an overbet that’s more than the size of the pot.

Dynamic Boards

Now let’s consider a dynamic (or wet) board like Ten-Nine-Eight with two Hearts.

If you’re the aggressor here, the turn card could easily allow your opponent to catch up by completing their draw.

Discourage them from “chasing” that draw by betting bigger on the flop, then either bet big again when the turn card is a blank or small when it’s a scary card like a Jack or another Heart.

Note that you’ve still disguised the strength of your hand by sizing your bets regardless of which cards you actually hold.

The next frontier is exploiting your opponents by betting big when you’ve got a big hand, and small when you’ve got a small hand.

This is for the experts, though, so we’ll leave that for another day, and in the meantime, may the rectangles be with you.