Bet Sizing in Live Poker
Bet sizing is especially important in live poker because you'll have an excellent opportunity to exploit players who aren't very good. If you might have gotten a half pot sized bet out of a good player on the internet, there's a legitimate chance that you could squeeze a three quarters pot sized bet out of a bad player in live poker.
Picking your spots is the name of the game when it comes to bet sizing. You need to know why you are betting and who you are betting against. If you know both of these things, you'll have a much easier time making the most money from your big hands and losing the least with your weaker hands.
Bet sizing isn't applicable only to pre-flop or flop play; it's used throughout the entirety of a hand. While it's certainly true that bet sizing will be relevant for the duration of a hand, how you size your bets will often times change from street to street. You might open raise pre-flop to 5x the blind, but you aren't going to be using this same metric when you bet the turn or river. Adjusting based on the dynamics of any given hand is absolutely crucial. You might bet a set for a certain amount on one board and another amount on another board. As mentioned previously, knowing why you are betting and who you are betting against is the most important thing to understand.
Why You Are Betting
The reason why you are betting should be obvious, but you might be surprised how often you can catch yourself betting without much rhyme or reason. It's very easy to fire out blind bets without thinking too hard about it. There's a certain degree of natural instinct that tends to take over, but you need to be sure that you are carefully considering each move before you actually make it. Even the best of players have fired out bets, set the money in the middle, and then realized that they made a big mistake. Your intent is directly related to how you should size your bets.
Now, let's change this hand and pretend that an overcard came on the flop. You still have a decent pair, but now there's an increased chance that you are behind. Given this, a bet like 60 into the 100 would be more logical. If you get called you'll know that you could definitely be behind, if you get raised you'll have saved a little, and it's still enough to procure folds. You adjusted downwards because you have a good hand, but it isn't as good as an overpair.
These two examples were incredibly simplistic while also illustrative of why bet sizing is so important in live poker. With online poker sites, a good opponent would be able to pick apart this bet sizing and use it as a tell. In live poker, most players just aren't thinking that hard.
Big hands and hands that are defending against draws is where most players find themselves in trouble. With a big hand, you should be betting out very hard. If you have drawn up a slow play, this is one thing, but you shouldn't be finding some ground in the middle. Either slow play or bet hard, but you can't try to do both at one time. Raise your bets in correlation with the strength of your hands. While this is a telegraph of hand strength, most live players won't pick up on it.
The worst thing you can do with a big hand is to make bets that get calls but achieve nowhere near the maximum in terms of profitability. In the long run, there's a big difference between betting "6" and getting calls vs. betting "8" with the same results. Value betting is an easy way to make a lot of money from live poker players.
Hands that are defending against draws should be played in a very similar way. Whatever you do, don't start to play passively. Not only is this playing into your opponent's favor, but you are going to make it harder on yourself later on. You can bet way too much and still get calls from live players because they like to chase draws. Online you'll find that players know when they aren't getting the right price to call, but live players don't really care.
Often times it will make sense to bet against draws even harder than with your made hands because you will be able to balance out the times where you lose with all of the times that you win big pots uncontested when your opponent misses.
Who You Are Betting Against
Who you are betting into is going to have just as much to do with your bet sizing as your hand itself. You would be more likely to bet hard with a middle pair against a calling station than you would be against the tightest player at the table. One of the biggest advantages of live poker is that you'll be able to create and utilize some very strong reads on your opponents. If you aren't using this to profit, you are probably not paying as much attention as you should be.
The opposite end of the spectrum is where you'll find the players who fold to just about everything except when they have very big hands. These are the players who you should be scoping out vs. going straight after. What is meant by this is that you can toss out some smaller bets to get a feel for where you stand. If a player seems apprehensive about calling a bet, you can feel safer about continuing on the next street. If you feel like your tight opponent is confident in their hand, you'll know to make a smaller bet or maybe to not bet at all. Use your opponents tendencies to decide whether you should be going for value or simply to see whether you are likely to be ahead or behind in a hand.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: October 2016
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