Bet Sizing in Tournaments
Tournament bet sizing is a complicated subject because it varies so much. You can be betting what equates to 1% of your stack when an even begins and later on the blinds alone will comprise 10% of what you have left. This is just one of the unique dynamics of tournament play that will come up again and again. The ability to effectively adjust bet sizing is one of the primary skills that sets winning tournament players apart from the rest. You might think that this is one of the easiest things to do, but it certainly is not.
There is much more to consider in bet sizing than relative stack sizes alone. You will need to know what your goal is, the likelihood of a fold, your post-flop plans, and so on and so forth. Raising from under the gun with a strong hand is entirely different than raising from the button in an attempt to steal. Sure, the blinds and stack sizes may be static, but the purpose of your play is entirely different. This is one way that you can easily identify whether or not a player knows what they are doing.
If you see someone who is raising in late position with no limpers to the same amount as when they raise from middle position with two limpers, you can be all but positive that they are a weak player. Bet sizing, especially in tournaments, has virtually limitless scenarios that can and should be considered. In time you will develop a feel for what makes the most logical sense in most every spot, but in this article we are going to cover some of the more common bet sizing strategies in tourney play.
Pre-Flop Bet Sizing
Pre-flop bet sizing should be one of the easier areas to master. There are two main reasons why you would be making a raise pre-flop, and they are either for value or as a bluff (steal). The first thing that you should do is ensure that these two are seldom going to be for the same amount. Raising with jacks in middle position should not be the same thing as stealing on the button. A simple analysis of your motivations will lead you to the most logical bet sizing strategy.
With a strong hand, your goal is to thin out the field while also getting as much value as possible. This means that you should be raising enough that you are winning a decent amount of chips, but not so much that you are blowing everyone out of the pot. Making pre-flop raises with strong hands is not something that requires too much practice. If there is one thing that you should be sure of, it is that you are not playing too passively. Tournament players like to suck people in when they have big hands, but this can easily back fire after the flop. Be aggressive, but be smart at the same time.
When making steal attempts (and you should be doing this often, especially late in tournaments), your raises do not need to be all that large. If you were making open raises to 3x or 4x the big blind, a steal on the button to 2.5x would work just fine. You should be making your raises large enough to get folds from the players left in the hand, but not large enough that you are wasting money. There is a thin line between small bets that garner folds and bets that find folds but also put unnecessary amounts of money on the line.
You shouldn't be min raising, but making normal sized raises when you are attempting to steal a pot pre-flop is just overkill. Your raise size should correlate loosely with your hand strength and more directly with how many folds you need to get from your opponents. On the button, raise small, one off the button, raise a tad larger, and so on and so forth.
Bet Sizing for Value
Bet sizing for value is arguably the most important thing that you can do in tournament poker. Aside from knowing the most optimal shove/fold/steal situations, making the most from your big hands has to be the most primary way in which players build up their stacks. When you are able to both make a strong hand and string your opponent along the whole way, things are going to be shaping up in your favor.
The first thing that you need to do is to determine your opponent's likeliness of calling your bets. In order to do this, you should first put them on a range of hands. You should be able to scale your bet sizing according to their strength. If you think that a player is very strong, betting out hard on all three streets will be your most viable move. If you think they are weak, checking and then making slower bets would be more practical.
Usually, getting someone to call off their stack is going to be easier in a tournament than it is in a cash game or even a sit and go. The reason for this is that once you can get someone to put in a significant amount of their chips, their willingness to fold is going to drop way down. A lot of players won't have the will power or determination to fold even once it is apparent that they are beat. You should be using this to your advantage as much as possible.
Cash game players are more likely to surrender with less money left because they are just a re-buy away from a healthy stack. If you can procure 50% of a player's tournament stack away, however, a river over bet to get the last 50% is not out of the question. Tournament players are ecstatic at the idea of creating a big stack through one sizable hand, and they despise the idea of giving most of their chips away only to fold. You can use these traits of tournament players to make larger turn and river bets than you would otherwise deem reasonable.
Bet Sizing in Bluffs and Against Passive Players
These two areas of bet sizing in tournaments can generally be lumped together. Both bluffs and moves against passive players have one ultimate goal in mind: achieve a fold with the least risk possible. Keeping this in mind, it will almost always be best to aim low. If a player is known for how tight they are, you shouldn't have much reason to believe that they are going to be suddenly calling down your bets light. Small continuation bets and small check raises are very effective in these spots because they accomplish the goal of scaring off your opponent. A lot of tournament players fear elimination and prefer to play only in pots where they feel extremely comfortable. If you can inject a bit of intimidation into these more passive players, your odds of success in finding folds is much increased.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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