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

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

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

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.