poker bet size strategy

These 4 Rules Will Help You Choose the Perfect Bet Size

Choosing bet sizes is a tricky task in No Limit Hold’em.

There is no one ‘perfect’ bet size that can be used in all spots. The optimal bet size will depend on a number of factors, including preflop action, board texture, stack depth and which player has a range advantage.

In this article, we’ll discuss four general rules that will help you choose a winning size – whether it be a 1/3 pot-size bet or a huge overbet – in any situation. Each rule is paired with an example hand, which were played by Upswing Lab members and analyzed by Doug Polk.

Let’s dive into rule #1.

Rule #1: Use a small bet size (25-35% Pot) on dry, static board textures

As well as functioning to get value, bets on the flop and turn deny your opponents their equity when they fold. On dry boards, however, equity denial is not very important because most of your opponent’s hands will have little equity against your value betting range. When equity denial is not important, you are more incentivized to use small bet sizes.

Another benefit of using a small size on dry boards is that calling ranges are inelastic — the likelihood that your opponent folds to a bet will be similar regardless of size. Why risk betting large with your bluffs when you can get the same result with a smaller size?

Finally, small bet sizes work well as an exploitative adjustment against players that fold too often. This is particularly true in live games and weak online environments where many opponents often play a ‘fit or fold’ post-flop style.

Here’s a hand played by an Upswing Lab member that demonstrates this concept:

Online Cash 6-Handed. 100bb Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt 6 5 in the CO.
UTG folds. MP folds. Hero raises to 2.5bb. BTN folds. SB folds. BB calls.

Flop (5.5bb): A 8♠ 3♣
BB checks. Hero bets 1.8bb. BB folds.

Analysis from Doug

On a dry board like A 8♠ 3♣, a small bet size (33% in this example) makes the most sense. This is because our range of value hands (88, 33, A8s, A3s, AK, AQ, AJ) is unlikely to be outdrawn on the turn, so we aren’t incentivized to drive out our opponent’s equity.

In the equity calculation below, we can see just how little equity the BB’s range has versus our value betting range:

bet size poker equity

The BB’s estimated range has just 11.32% equity

And this chart shows how much equity each hand in the BB’s range has versus our value betting range (does not include our bluffs):

bet size range breakdown

The overwhelming majority of the BB’s range poses very little threat to our value bets

Also, the BB’s calling range is likely to be inelastic in this spot. Hands like KJo will usually be folded regardless of the bet size because such combinations have terrible playability over later streets and are drawing nearly dead against our value hands.

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Rule #2: Use a pretty large bet size (55-80% pot) on wet, dynamic boards

When your value betting range is vulnerable to being outdrawn, you should use a larger bet size. This strategy has three notable benefits:

  1. Large bet sizes allow you to extract more value and build a pot when you have a strong hand
  2. Larger bets extract more value before the turn or river has a chance to reduce your strong hand to a bluff-catcher. For instance, almost half of the deck is a bad card for 9♣ 9 on T 9 5♠ 4♠.
  3. Large bet sizes generate more fold equity, making your bluffs more effective

This hand was played by John C. and analyzed by Doug in the private Upswing Lab group:

Online Cash 6-Handed. 100bb Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt A♣ A on the BTN.
UTG raises to 3bb. MP calls. CO folds. Hero raises to 11bb. SB folds. BB folds. UTG calls. MP calls.

Flop (34.5bb): 2♠ 5 3♠
UTG checks. MP checks. Hero bets 12bb. UTG calls. MP calls.

Turn (70.5bb): 8♣
UTG checks. MP checks. Hero bets 22.32bb. UTG folds. MP calls.

River (115.14bb): 6
MP checks. Hero…?

Analysis from Doug

This ~33% flop bet size is too small given the board texture and the fact that we are multi-way. The board is low, but it is not static – our opponents can have a variety of flush draws and backdoor draws.

Our stack depth is another reason to large bet on this flop. If we bet 22bb (65% pot-size bet) and get called by one player, we will take a turn card with 78.5bb in the pot and 67bb behind. This stack-to-pot ratio allows us to comfortably shove on the turn (more on this in tip #3).

When we use a flop bet size that allows us to go all-in on the turn, our bluffs will generate more fold equity and our opponents won’t have a great price to draw.

Rule #3: Your stack-to-pot ratio should influence your bet size

Your stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is an important factor to consider when choosing a bet size. You have to think ahead, considering what the size of the pot will be on later streets and how you intend to proceed with your value hands and bluffs.

Staying fairly consistent with your bet sizing across the flop, turn and river will ensure that each bet will generate a good amount of fold equity. Many players will bet too large on the flop and turn, and as a result end up with a tiny bet left behind on the river. Bluffing is extremely ineffective in such situations because tiny river shoves generate little-to-no fold equity.

This example hand was played and submitted by Upswing member Bogdan E.:

150 / 300 Live Tournament 9-Handed. 21,000 Effective Stacks.

Hero is dealt Q Q on the BTN.
UTG calls. UTG+1 calls. LJ calls. HJ folds. CO folds. Hero raises to 1,200. SB folds. BB calls. UTG+1 calls. LJ calls.

Flop (5,250): 3♠ 6♣ 9
BB checks. UTG+1 checks. LJ checks. Hero bets 3,000. BB folds. UTG+1 calls. LJ folds.

Turn (11,250): J
UTG+1 checks. Hero bets 7,000. UTG+1 raises to 15,000. Hero raises to 16,800 and is all-in. UTG+1 calls and shows 6d6h.

River (44,850): 5♣

Analysis from Doug

The first sizing error in this hand is the pre-flop raise — somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 chips would have been better. With three limpers already in the pot, we need to raise to a size that doesn’t give our opponents such a good price to call. This is particularly true with the hand we have, QQ, since high pocket pairs perform better with a low SPR and when fewer players see the flop.

Assuming we make it 1,800 and get the same number of callers, the pot on the flop will be 7,650 with 19,200 behind. Considering our SPR, using a size of around 5,000 (~65% pot) on the flop sets us up nicely for a shove on the turn — 14,200 into 17,650 assuming one caller (~80% pot). This approach allows us to extract maximum value with our strong hands whilst ensuring we generate good fold equity with our bluffs.

The larger sizes Bogdan actually used on the flop and turn will often times lead to an awkward spot on the river. Had our opponent not check-raised on the turn, we would have reached the river with less than a half-pot size bet behind (~10,000 into ~25,000) which is not good for our triple-barrel bluffs.

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Rule #4: Use overbets when you have a nut advantage

Overbets work well on boards that favor your range over your opponent’s range, particularly when only you are able to have nutted hands.

An overbetting range should also be polarized — made up of only strong hands and bluffs. Using such a large size allows you to get the maximum with your value hands, and push maximum fold equity with our bluffs.

The most effective overbet bluffs are usually hands that block our opponent’s most likely strong hands that will call. The best example of this is using the nut flush blocker on a three-to-a-flush board — think A K♠ on Q 8 2♣ 6 3♠.

This hand was played by Doug and self-analyzed in his Overbet module in the Upswing Lab:

$100 / $200 Heads-Up. $59,416 Effective Stacks.

Doug is dealt 4 2 in the BB.
BTN raises to $700. Doug calls.

Flop ($1,400): 5♠ A Q
Doug checks. BTN bets $980. Doug calls.

Turn ($3,360): 3♣
Doug checks. BTN checks.

River ($3,360): 7
Doug checks. BTN bets $1,500. Doug raises to $10,800. BTN calls and mucks A♠ 2.

Analysis from Doug

We can make some assumptions about the BTN’s range once he checks the turn:

  • The BTN does not have the turned nuts (42) because that hand would almost certainly value bet on the turn
  • The BTN does not have the rivered nuts (64) because a 6-high draw would almost certainly semi-bluff on the turn
  • The sets and two pairs in the BTN’s preflop range (AA, QQ, 55, AQ, A5) are unlikely on the river because he would either slow-play on the flop or continue betting on the turn

Since our opponent is very unlikely to have a nutted hand on this river, we can construct an overbetting strategy. Here is how we will divvy up our value range: 

  • Overbet check-raise with our strongest hands (64, 42, 55, 33)

Overbet check-raising here allows us to extract an extra bet from our opponent’s bluffs, and get maximum value when our opponent bets-calls with a value hand (like the A2o here).

We also need to mix in some bluff check-raises here in order to balance out our value bets. 54 is a perfect candidate because it blocks set combos (55), two-pair combos (A5, Q5, 53) and straight combos (42 and 64).

The size of our check-raise in this spot should always be large (at least 2x pot) because we are representing a polarized range.

  • Overbet with the rest of our value hands (35, A5, A3, A7, some Ax)

We can then overbet lead with our medium-to-strong hands, which this prevents our opponent from freely checking back on the river.

Bet Sizing Wrap Up

That’s all I’ve got for you today.

If you’ve got any requests for future article topics, please leave them in the comments below!

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