Monday, October 20, 2008

Bet Size Matters

Posted February 20th, 2008 by phillau

When we first started learning poker, we’re told to pick the spots and shove with the best hands in order to enhance the probabilities. It’s probably the most novice style of poker. I mean, it’s so mechanical and repetitive even a machine can do it. Poker is much more human and it involves playing the players much more than the cards. One thing I pay a lot of attention to is the sizes of the bets. This is a very important tell professional players look for, and it’s definitely one of the very few things you can read off of in online poker.

Here’s an example. I was playing a live tournament a few days ago and came across this very interesting hand. I had 7d 9d in my hand and I limped in preflop to go heads up with the Big Blind, whose chip count covers my 2500 stack. BB is a tight solid player. Flop comes Ks Qh 6s. BB checks, and I check. Turn card shows a 9s, giving a potential flush and potential straight, it also gives me a pair of 9. BB thought for about two seconds and then went all-in. I’ve got less chips than him so I can either call or fold my hand. I’m sitting on my pair of 9, without a flush or a straight draw. I analyzed the situation. The bet is definitely too big for the pot (which has only 675 in chips), so I don’t see possibility of a set. I mean, even with that board, a solid player would still seek some value, maybe by betting half of my stack. Similar for two-pairs and top-pair. Furthermore, if he had the middle pair of Queen, he would’ve bet on the flop. I also do not put him on a complete draw since he’s a bit too tight to be risking it all on a draw. Everything indicated to a nearly complete bluff. So even though it could end my tournament life, I made the call. It turned out I was right, and BB showed only the bottom pair of 6. My pair of 9 held up and I took down that massive pot, all owing to good reading skills. The message is, by paying attention to the sizes of the bets, you can learn so much about the players in the hand and the hands they’re playing.

Without giving away too much of my play, my general guideline for intermediate players playing on an intermediate table is to size your bets according to the value of the pot and the board. This applies both when you have the winning hand and when you’re bluffing. Value betting the winning hand should be straight forward. But the value-bet-bluff is a very good idea too. I mean, it’s always tempting to overbet on a bluff, as it pressures the other players. But if you’re playing against anyone with some decent skill and a half decent hand, he’ll call you down because the bluff is just so obvious. So, you might ask, when is shoving appropriate? The short answer to that is, it’s appropriate to go all-in when you don’t have position and you want to eliminate all further plays. You want to leave it all to the cards and even out any positional edge the other players might have on you.

More to come on this topic later. Cheers!

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