Bet sizing can tell you a lot in live poker. In general, the
level of play in a live format is going to be lesser than what
you would normally find in the equivalent stakes online. Because
of this, you are going to have a much easier time reading into
exactly what a certain size bet might mean. Most of the time you’ll need to use context clues in order to effectively try to
piece together the puzzle that bet sizing is presenting you
You can’t take an over bet, for example, out of context
and say that they usually mean someone is either exceptionally
strong or weak. Instead, you need to see what the action was
before, after, and at that exact moment. When you compile all of
the information readily available to you, it will be that much
easier to assess what bet sizing likely means.
The inherent issue with using bet sizing to determining hand
strength is that it requires just the right set of variables.
You aren’t going to be able to tell a whole lot from most
standard open raises. Likewise, without any sort of history in
regards to betting tendencies of any given player, you’ll have
a tough time deciphering what any individual bet could mean.
Again this all comes back to using several pieces of information
to paint one solidified picture. With all of this said, there
are still plenty of ways in which experienced, thinking players
can look at bet sizing in order to determine where they are
likely to stand in any given hand. This article aims to outline
some of the more common situations and what they most frequently
Pre-Flop Bet Sizing
Pre-flop is arguably the toughest time to accurately
determine what a specific bet size is likely to mean. The most
obvious sort of bet sizing tell in pre-flop situations is the
over bet. Players who raise 10x the big blind or
re-raise to an astronomical amount are usually in a position
of extreme strength. If not extreme strength, the other typical
pre-flop over betting hands include TT-QQ and sometimes AK.
These are the types of hands that are most definitely strong in
and of themselves, but a lot of players don’t understand how to
play them correctly.
Rather than try to learn proper strategy
for these sorts of hands, many live players will instead bomb
the pot. They figure that a big bet should earn them a win right
then and there. Needless to say, this is very flawed logic, but
you can use their missteps to save you money. Where one player
is sacrificing potential winnings, in this case the over bettor,
there’s usually someone who is saving on losses.
One of the more curious yet surprisingly common pre-flop bet
sizes is the min raise. A lot of players will make this move
with hands in which they want to build the pot just a little
bit. Another reason players use to justify this raise is that
they want to fend off unwelcome open raises that might put them
in an awkward position. Usually a min raise will be indicative
of either a suited connector type hand or a small pocket pair.
It isn’t impossible for min raises to be monster hands either.
You should be leery of a min raise, but don’t let it scare you
away from making a three bet should you be holding a hand that
calls for more aggression.
Post-Flop Bet Sizing
Post-flop is when the action and bet sizing will generally
provide you with a lot more accurate and complete reads. Where
in pre-flop play you had little to work with other than history
with opponents, post-flop play has a framework in place that can
be used to help more effectively pin down hand strength. If
someone has raised or re-raised pre-flop, you are going to learn
a lot from how they react to the flop. Maybe it’s likely that
they bricked, maybe you think they are still strong. Whether you
know or not, the one thing that is for sure is that flop action
will push you in one direction or the other.
Imagine that you are in middle or late position and make a
raise. For the sake of example, just assume that your hand is of
decent strength but not aces or kings. It folds around to a
player in the blinds who makes a moderate sized 3-bet. Now, this
isn’t enough to immediately cause you to muck your hand, but it
does give some pause for concern. Considering your position, you
decide to make the call and see a flop.
Remember, your actual hand strength is largely irrelevant because the main goal is to
find out where your opponent stands. The flop comes with all low
cards. If the other player had a hand like AQ or AK, they missed
completely. If they had a big pocket pair, they are in great
shape. The pot size right now is around $160 and the game is
Since you are in position, the 3-bettor is first to
act. After little thought, he leads out for $50. Now, this is a
very small bet. What is it likely to mean? In this case, it
probably means that he missed. Think about what most players
would do in this spot if they actually had a big pocket pair.
Most anyone would fire out a much more sizable bet given the
action, the size of the pot, and the board. If the player is
sucking you in, they are making a mistake, even if it happens to
work this time. Small bets into large pots tend to mean that a
player has become very apprehensive for one reason or another.
Over bets in post-flop play are entirely different stories
than small bets. These types of moves can mean literally
anything. If you had to pick one most likely answer, it would be
that an over bet means absolute strength. This is the very
reason, though, that over bets also work so well as bluffs. You’ll need to have a lot of courage to make these types of bets,
but they do work fairly often. In the end, you are frequently
going to be in positions where all you beat is a total bluff
Knowing this, you are going to be able to polarize
your opponent’s range to one of two things: way ahead and way
behind. It’s unlikely that you will be facing very many over
bets where you both have middle sets or mid-range flushes, for
example. Use the action throughout the hand to try and determine
what an over bet means. Always be careful, because it could
cost you big time if you are wrong. Though it stings when you
are wrong, it will sure feel good when you manage to pick off an
over bet bluff. The key is to pick off the bluffs just a bit
more often than you pay someone off.
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