This article is based on an episode of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by poker pro and coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike: What’s up poker players, thanks for stopping by to level-up your poker game. My name is Mike Brady and I’m joined by a Scottish poker pro Gary Blackwood.
Gary: What’s up guys and girls? Welcome back to the podcast. I am just back from two weeks in Los Angeles, where I used my own podcast about splashy live poker games to absolutely crush the games. Really happy to be back with you guys this week. Today we’re talking about small bets — when to use them, when not to use them. All things small bets.
Mike: 15 or so years ago small bets were used quite rarely by great poker players. But since then, the usage of small bets has grown as players realized how much expected value they can add to their overall strategy. Using small bets at the right time will allow you to win more pots and put your opponents in tough spots, so this is a vital topic.
As Gary said he just got back from a trip to LA, and one of the main reasons he went out there other than to play poker, was to vlog about it. So I highly recommend checking out Gary’s vlog on YouTube.
When To Bet Small
Let’s start by going over the fundamental differences between small and big bet sizes. This might be a refresher for some of you listening, but I want to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Players should fold more often versus big bets than small bets because their pot odds are worse against big bets.
- When betting small, your bluffs need to work less often compared to when you’re betting big.
- You must bluff less often to remain balanced when betting small vs betting big. In other words, the range with which you bet small should contain a lower proportion of bluffs.
Anything to add to that list, Gary?
Gary: Before I add anything to the list, I want to quickly reiterate point number 1. As Mike says, it is really important that we understand that we call less versus big bets. So for example, in a 3-bet pot, you’re in position, and your opponent bets 1/3-pot on 8-5-3, you get to float extremely wide, because that bet size is small. Your floating range is drastically different, however, if your opponent bets correctly for 75%-pot.
I’m sure there are plenty more things that will come up during this podcast, but a brief summary is that most of the time we will use the smaller bet sizes in our arsenal when the board is more disconnected; and the more connected the board the more we tend to use larger sizes.
For example, BTN vs BB I will use 33%-pot when betting on K-8-2, 50% on K-7-6, and 75% on 9-6-4. You’re going to be met with less resistance on K-8-2 so you can use the smaller size, and the more connected the board, the less likely your c-bet is going to get through so the less you bet, and when you’re betting less often you tend to use bigger sizes. There are of course some exceptions to that last rule like monotone and paired boards, but for every other example, less frequent bets will usually mean bigger bet sizes!
What Does “Small Bet” Mean?
Mike: Now, small can mean different things to different people, so let’s define it before getting into specific examples and strategies. What do you consider to be a “small” bet? And can the answer to that question be situation dependent?
Gary: So let’s just make sure first of all that our listeners are on the right page. When we talk about bet sizes we mean in relation to the size of the pot. So 33%-pot on the flop, when there’s 3bb in the pot, is a small bet, as is 33%-pot on the river when there’s 140bb in there. It’s not the dollar amount, it’s in relation to the size of the pot.
In terms of small bet sizes, you can build your strategy around never using smaller than 33% and you still have a very solid strategy. There are some situations where 25% is used (for example 4-bet pots), and even 10%, but if you’re not confident in having a variety of small sizes, you can simply use 33% as your small size for now until you feel comfortable expanding that. To answer the question, anything 33%-pot and under would be considered a small size.
Mike: If you want to read an article on when to use those tiny 10% bet sizes Gary alluded to, go ahead and Google “tiny bets poker” (or click here).
When To Bet Small In Single-Raised Pots
Mike: Alright let’s dig into the meat and potatoes of this episode. What are some factors that make you want to bet small?
Gary: Let’s talk about single-raised pots (SRPs) first. You want to bet 33% when you have a range advantage but not a significant nut advantage. I’m about to plunder my upcoming Upswing Lab Module for this, but say you open the BTN and the BB calls and the flop is K-8-3 rainbow. You’ve got about 54% equity here, but you only have a slight nut advantage.
You have KK/AA/AK, but both players have K8, K3, 88, and 33 at the same frequency. In this spot you can bet 33%.
Say however you have a board where you have a significant nut advantage like A-K-6 for example, you actually want to be using bigger bet sizes here in single-raised pots to press your significant nut advantage. The solver basically wants to start building a pot with really big sizes here to make up for the fact that there’s not that much money in there. We’ll talk in-depth on next week’s podcast about the reasons for that.
The disconnected boards where you’re doing relatively well, you tend to want to use the 1/3-pot size. As the pot gets more connected, like K-7-6 where you’ll be met with a little more resistance, you’ll use a 50%-pot size. Really connected boards like 9-5-3 tend to favor larger bet sizes.
Mike: For listeners that aren’t familiar with the turn “nut advantage,” the nut advantage goes to the player that has the most super strong hands in their range, given the board texture. Hands that are not necessarily the true nuts, but the effective nuts. That could be a really good top pair on some boards.
On K-8-3, AA is essentially the nuts. Take 9-8-7 though, AA isn’t going to be the nuts. JT and other straights are going to be the nuts, and maybe some sets and two pair. So it really depends on the board as far as what the “nuts” are as far as nut advantage goes.
When To Bet Small In 3-Bet Pots
Gary: That leads me to my next point, the same doesn’t apply when you have a nut advantage in a 3-bet pot. You don’t need to use huge sizes here because the pot is already bigger, and you can play for stacks by the river, so we typically use 33% in 3-bet pots when the board is good for you. K-8-3, A-7-2, Q-Q-5, these are good boards for you, the pot is already big, you can just bet 33%-pot here and still play for stacks by the river.
Mike: Imagine you 3-bet to 10bb preflop and get called, so there are 20bb in the pot. If you bet 33%-pot (say 7bb), there’s going to be 34bb in there. Assuming you started the hand with 100bb, you’re going to be down to 80bb or so. It’s going to be pretty easy to bet 20bb on the turn, and then shove the river.
So in a 3-bet pot, you don’t have to use a big bet size on the flop to get all the money in by the river. Whereas if you look at a single-raised pot, there’s 5-6bb in there, if you want any chance of getting a bunch of money in by the river, you’re going to need to bomb the flop. You’ll even see the solver sometimes use overbets on the flop, and double-pot overbets on the turn in certain situations, because it really wants to juice the pot when it has a very strong hand and a superior range.
Examples of When To Use Small Bets
Mike: Let’s get into some examples now. What are the most common situations in which our listeners should tend to bet small?
Gary: I have five examples for use here:
- Single-raised pots where the board is paired
- Single-raised pots where the board is good for you and disconnected
- Monotone flops
- Single broadway/double broadway 3-bet pots
- Single broadway/double broadway 4-bet pots
Note that you see big differences in EV in the solver when the pot gets bigger. Say for example you bet 50% when you should be betting 33% in a SRP. It doesn’t cost you that much EV because the pot is relatively small.
But if you’re betting 50% in a spot you should be betting 25% in a 4-bet pot, that’s a big difference in EV because of the size of the pot.
Mike: If you’re somebody that studies with solvers on your own, or maybe you study with an upcoming Upswing product that allows you to browse solver solutions (little teaser there, keep an eye out for that), I highly recommend focusing on bigger pots. You obviously have to study the single-raised pots too, but as Gary said, the EV difference between a lot of those decisions isn’t going to be huge.
So if you really hone in on 3-bet and 4-bet pots as your top priority, that’s going to help you increase your EV in these already huge pots.
SRPs Where The Board Is Paired
Mike: Let’s dive into these specific examples. Like BTN vs BB, single-raised pots, the board comes 7-7-2 or 8-3-3. Does it matter that the paired card is low, and that the BB will have more of that card in their range, and have more trips? Or is it the same on boards like A-A-4 and K-K-5?
Gary: I’m using a 1/3-pot bet size on any paired board. That doesn’t change because of the texture of the paired board.
What does change is your betting frequency. So on a board like K-K-6, which s really good for you, you get to bet your entire range. But a board like 5-5-4 with a flush draw, which is lower and more connected, the BB is going to have more trips in their range. So your betting frequency goes down.
Mike: How much does it matter that you raised from the button, compared to raising from EP? For example, if it comes 5-5-4, and you raised on the BTN, you actually do have some 5x. You have some A5 offsuit, you might even have K5 offsuit. You’ll have more suited 5x. But if you’re UTG, you don’t have A5 and K5 offsuit, and you have only a handful of suited 5x. Meaning you have significantly less trips than the BB. How much does that matter?
Gary: The betting frequency comes down a little bit, but not as much as you might think. Overall (on 5-5-4) you still want to be betting around 50-60% of the time. Compared to a board like K-K-6 where you can bet your whole range. And you’re still using that small bet size when you c-bet these boards.
SRPs Where The Board Is Disconnected And Favorable
Mike: Ok let’s move on to singe-raised pots where the board is good for the preflop raiser, and disconnected.
Gary: Boards like K-8-2, Q-5-2, A-9-4, all these single-broadway boards that are disconnected. You want to be using a 1/3-pot c-bet size. Please note, however, that you don’t necessarily bet your entire range on all of these boards.
Boards like Q-7-2 and K-8-3, you just simplify and bet your entire range. But on a board like K-5-3, or A-9-6 for example, these aren’t spots where we bet our entire range.
That is another topic for another podcast day, but very important. We’ve talked about betting small and betting very frequently. Gone are the days where you just bet your entire range on A-9-4.
Mike: Our last episode was exclusively monotone flops, so I don’t think we have to talk about this too much. These are unique boards where we bet small, but not necessarily frequently.
Gary: If you guys want a recap on monotone flops, our podcast from a couple of weeks ago was absolutely fantastic. The solver wants to use that smaller bet size on monotone flops because the board can just change so easily and drastically. Like if the fourth heart comes. So the solver will use the small bet size on very dynamic boards that can change so much, and monotone boards are a perfect example of that.
The more a board can change, the more you favor a smaller bet size.
3-Bet Pots Where The Board Is Favorable
Gary: There are a lot of 3-bet pots where the board is good for you. King-high boards in particular are very good for you as the preflop aggressor. When you have that nut advantage, and the pot is already big, you don’t have to bomb the flop to be able to stack your opponent by the river.
Mike: It also makes your opponents’ lives a little bit easy when you have the nut advantage and you bet big on the flop. You have a strong range AND you bet big, so your opponent might want to get out of there with a marginal hand. But if you bet small with your nut advantage, your opponent is faced with a tough decision. And you want them to peel with their marginal hands.
4-Bet Pots Where The Board Is Favorable
Mike: What are some examples of these single and double-broadway boards that are favorable to the preflop aggressor in 4-bet pots?
Gary: If you think about our range in a 4-bet pot (we covered this in a previous episode of our podcast), it’s really condensed to hands like KJ, KQ, AJ, AA, KK, AK, etc. So on a board that comes down K-7-2, you rarely miss on a board like that. If you do miss, you have backdoor equity for days.
Whereas your opponent is going to have hands like 65 suited, A5 suited. They have more misses on those single-broadway boards. And the double-broadway boards are so good for you as the preflop aggressor in a 4-bet pot.
Mike: In the next episode we’re going to cover the other side of this topic: when to bet big. So keep an eye out for that wherever you get your podcasts.
If you got value from this show, please take a moment to rate the podcast 5 stars if you’re listening or click the like button if you’re watching on YouTube. And of course, be sure to subscribe/follow so you get notified when future episodes come out.
By the way, if you play poker tournaments, you should know that we’ve got an advanced course coming out in May, just in time for the World Series of Poker.
Longtime friends Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo are currently finishing up Road to Victory: The Ultimate Tournament Course. Darren and Nick have combined for over 40 million dollars in live tournament earnings and many millions more online. Darren has a record four World Poker Tour titles and is a master of exploitative tournament strategy, while Nicky P is a super high roller regular who is a master of equilibrium strategies. You get the best of both worlds in this course, and as someone who has watched most of the content they’ve made so far, trust me when I say you do not want to miss this one.
Darren will be releasing free videos on the Upswing Poker YouTube channel throughout April so you can get a preview of his teaching style, so be sure to check those out.
If you want to save your spot in the Road to Victory course, pre-registration is available now on right here!
If you want to follow us on Twitter, I’m @mbradycf and Gary is @gazzyb1233. Gazzy is also on Instagram as gazzyb123. He posts a lot of great poker content on his IG Stories, like quizzes, updates about his sessions, stuff like that. It’s really fun to follow along.
See you in next week’s episode when we cover when to bet big. Take care!
If you want to check out more episodes of Upswing Poker Level-Up, scroll down on this page to find them.