For all the beginners, we recommend you not to pay too much attention to finding tells in your opponents. It’s usually better for new players to pay close attention to betting patterns. Betting patterns mean two things: when players tend to bet and how much they are betting.
Playing close attention to the following will help you to narrow down possible hands that your opponents might have. This is one of the biggest tells while playing live poker. Players tend to give out a lot of information by how much they choose to bet.
DESCRIBING BET SIZES
We’ll start with the basics and move on to studying about some factors which affect bet sizing. When discussing preflop bet sizing, we typically speak of the betting amounts with accordance to the big blind. For example, in a $1/$2 cash game, a player opens and raises to $8. What matters here is that the bet size is 4 times the big blind or “4x”.
The next reraise can also be taken into account. For example, after the $8 raise, a player makes it $23 which can be interpreted as 11.5x the big bling or nearly 3x the original raise. However, the postflop betting amounts are spoken in terms of the pot and NOT the big blind.
Let’s say that the $23 raise is folded around to the original raiser and he calls making it a total pot of $49. On the flop, the out of position checks and his opponents bets out $25. The $25 bet is called “half-pot”. If the bet was $35, it would’ve been “three-quarters pot” and “pot-sized” if the raise was $50.
The reason why postflop bets are calculated in accordance to the pot instead of the big blind is because this method makes it easier to calculate pot odds. For eg. a half pot bet always means that your pot odds will be 3:1 for you to make the call.
BET SIZING PREFLOP
No Limit Hold’em cash games bet sizing is usually larger than that in tournaments. A 3x preflop raise in a big cash game is considered a small bet, while in tournaments 3x raise is a standard open raising bet size.
In low stakes cash games, you’ll sometimes see players making it 5x or even more in order to prevent more people from calling. The same can be said for online tournaments particularly in micro tournaments. Whether you’re playing cash games or tournaments, observe carefully what a normal or average preflop raise seems to be at your table, thereafter make notes about the players who deviate from this “standard”.
If a 4x open seems a normal open on your table, make notes of players who open 8x or 10x or of those who go relatively small with 2x or 3x. Then look at their hands if it goes to showdown. This will provide you with useful information about their opening ranges and habits when evaluating preflop opens going forward.
There are a few factors you want to consider when evaluating an opponent’s bet size when open-raising before the flop:
- the player’s position
- the player’s stack size
- the player’s style and betting patterns
Opening raises from early positions are often going to be larger than middle or late position raises. Someone under the gun usually wants to discourage people calling behind them, as they’ll have to play out of position against them postflop.
Meanwhile players in later positions aren’t as concerned about postflop position — e.g., the button knows when open-raising before the flop that he’ll be playing from position after the flop. It’s also important to know more how much the stack of your opponent is before calling a big opening raise.
For example, if a player has 30$ left and he opens for 10$, it’s likely that he will be looking to commit all of his chips which means you’ll have to call an extra 20$. If your hand is strong enough for you, then you might want to reraise and force your opponent into a decision. Finally, a player’s style and betting patterns provide important context when evaluating the size of a preflop raise.
Is the player loose and aggressive? Does he make lots of opening raises? Is the player a nit who almost never open-raises? When raising before, did the player usually make it 4x the BB, and now has chosen 6x? Answering these questions can help you decide more accurately what the player’s raise in this particular instance might indicate about hand strength.
BEST SIZING POSTFLOP
Moving on to postflop betting, differences between live/online or cash games/tournaments become less dramatic. Sometimes cash games can be very loose and tournaments can be tight, and sometimes cash games can be tight whereas a tournament might have a lot of loose/aggressive players.
The important thing to do again is to make notes and understand the “standard” betting amounts on the table. Although, there are a number of generalizations that can be made about postflop bet sizing that tend to apply in different NLH games and settings. On the flop, continuation bets are usually made by the preflop aggressor.
A big ¾ bet on the flop could often signal either- strength or vulnerability. A player holding pocket jacks on a 9♠️6♥️3♥️ does not want their opponent to see a turn card cheaply and bets out big to win the pot there and then. A smaller “c-bet”, lets say ½ pot bet, is certainly more ambiguous. A similar bet on this board might mean a set of Sevens or Queens/Kings.
On the turn, bet sizing becomes even more meaningful, and in many cases more telling. When evaluating bet sizing on the turn, you’ll again want to consider the player’s relative position, stack size, and style and betting patterns , as well as the board texture. A player betting $30 into a $120 pot on a 7♠️6♥️3♥️2♥️ board might be semi-bluffing or making a defensive “blocking bet.”
A player betting $90 into a $120 pot on such a board might have completed a draw and been going for value while also protecting a hand that could be outdrawn on the river. On the river, big bets like ¾ pot or more usually indicate extreme polarization (nuts or bluff). You have two pair on a board that is 7♠️6♥️3♥️2♥️5♠️ and the opponent bets 150$ in a 180$ pot.
Can you fold your two pair or would you call what likely is just a “bluff-catcher”? Small bets like ½ pot or less could also be bluffs but lean towards being value bets. A player betting $55 into $180 on that same board might have a flush and figures that size to be optimal to get a two-pair hand or straight to call.
In the end, the question comes back to how should you size your bets? A complete answer might actually require two separate blogs for postflop and preflop but as a general rule, remember to balance your bet sizings and avoid being too predictable i.e try not to have a betting pattern.
By “balance” what we mean is that it’s not necessary to bet big with strong hands and small with weak hands. Do not make the same sized bets while bluffing or going for value, smarter opponents will catch on to that and you’ll find yourself not getting any value for your strong hands and getting called off while bluffing.
Always bet with purpose. Remember what your intention is in accordance with the bet you’re about to make. Is it to get a fold or call or trying to induce a reraise? Think for a second, do the math and make the best decision possible.