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: If you’re a player who rarely bets big on the flop and turn, you are leaving tons of money on the table. Betting big in the right spots allows you to juice pots with strong hands and superior ranges when you have them. And that’s how you maximize value and stack more opponents. This is a follow up to our last episode, which was all about when to bet small.
General Thoughts About Big Bets
Mike: Let’s start out with a general question, Mr. Blackwood. How do you think about big bets generally?
Gary: Really easy – I love them when it’s me that’s doing the betting, and I hate them when it’s my opponent! There are a lot of players out there listening to this that will bet 33% pot on a board like out-of-position in a 3-bet pot. That is something that needs to be eradicated immediately. There are a lot of spots where you need to bet big and we’ll cover the various reasons.
Big bets are a very useful tool to have in your arsenal, so it’s really important that you have them. Case and point, say you’re on the BTN with KQo, you open, SB 3-bets, you call. The flop is . The BTN bets 33% which is a pretty easy decision to call, right?
If, however, he bets 75%, it feels really close, really uncomfortable, and that goes for lots of hands that you have here. You’ll have hands like , , , etc. All of those hands are happy to call vs a 33% size but are in a tough spot vs a 75% size.
Put simply, knowing when to use big bets and using them properly can make the game really hard for your opponent. And if you only have small bet sizes, you’re making the game too easy for them!
What Constitutes A Big Bet Size
Mike: I think a lot of the time, people will think they are betting big when they are not. They might think 50-60% is big on a certain board, but that board warrants an even bigger bet. Before getting into specific hand examples and strategies, I think we should define “big bets” so everyone is on the same page. When you say “big bet” what exactly do you mean in terms of percent of pot?
Gary: So generally, 75% will be considered a big bet in a 3-bet pot, and you won’t really ever overbet a flop in a 3-bet pot.
But in a single-raised pot, 75% will be considered a big bet, but there are also some spots where we want to bet 133% pot. We’ll take a look at those spots, and more importantly, talk about why we have huge bets.
Remember, working out why we do something is far more important than just implementing the thing itself. What I mean by that is say I tell you to bet 75% on SB vs BTN in a 3-bet pot. Implementing that is good, but you want to understand why the solver wants to do that. The why is just as important as the what.
Mike: Yeah, I think the “why” will help you figure out other situations to do it. You’ll be better equipped to know the other boards that might or might not warrant that big bet. So, let’s get into the “why” right now.
Factors For Using Big Bets (In Single-Raised Pots)
Mike: What are the factors that make you want to bet big?
Gary: There are a few different factors depending on the scenario. There are things that we must take into consideration like nut advantage, board connectivity, position, and how good or bad the board is for your range. I’m really excited to break down some of these concepts in just a moment, but the specifics of when to bet big are really important, and we need to be 100% sure we are not mixing these examples up!
There are a whole bunch of fine details that change everything with our bet size. It is important to implement these concepts correctly.
Most Common Situations To Use Big Bets (In Single-Raised Pots)
Mike: Time for some specific examples. What are the most common situations in which our listeners should tend to bet big?
Gary: So let’s talk about single-raised pots first. When solvers came around, we would just c-bet 33% on a board like or BTN vs BB with our entire range. The game has evolved more and more now to the point where that’s a somewhat obsolete strategy.
In single-raised pots, we find more really big bets going in on boards where we have such a significant nut advantage. For example, if you open BTN and the BB calls, you’ll find any ATx, AJx, AQx, and AKx board actually favors an overbet c-bet on the flop. This is because the BB is supposed to 3-bet so much AK, AQ, AJ, ATs, etc. Therefore, their calling range doesn’t contain strong two pairs.
Your nut advantage is significant here and you want to press that so you can play for stacks by the river. Remember the pot is small in single-raised pots, and you want to bloat it with your nut advantage as quickly as possible. You can’t bet 33%, bet turn, and then shove river. You want to overbet the flop so you have the ability to play for stacks by the river.
I’m going to give you three types of boards here: AK6, AKT, and AKK. You only have a really significant nut advantage on AK6. On AKT, you’re opponent can have a ton of QJo. On AT6 your opponent can’t have the strongest hands. On AKK your opponent has plenty of Kings. It’s important to understand the differences between these three boards.
Mike: Think about the situation our opponent is going to be in where we bomb the flop and turn, then again on the river.
On AK6, they’re going to be in a really nasty spot on almost every runout with every hand in their range except for 66 and some turned two pairs. That’s a really difficult situation for them. It will be hard to call with the right amount of hands and we can bluff effectively.
Compare that to the other two boards. On AKT, if you bomb the flop and turn then shove the river, they can just fold everything except QJ. They have all 12 combos of QJo and they might even have some QJs. On AKK, when they have a King they can call you down. Big bets on such a board don’t make their life all that hard.
Really think about the situation that your opponent will be in. You might even want to make some exploitative adjustments here. If you know someone doesn’t have the heart to call you down with marginal hands, you might want to implement a strategy where you do a little bit more big betting with bluffs and size down a little with value. Just make sure you have solid evidence that you are playing one of these players.
Gary: You are absolutely right. This strategy is a nightmare to play against. If you face a 133% bet on the flop, you have to fold some middle pairs on the flop and some top pairs on the turn.
Choosing Your Bluffs (In Single-Raised Pots)
Mike: I’ve always been interested in how the solver chooses bluffs in these spots. Think about the AK6 board. The value range is obvious: sets, two pairs, AQ. What about bluffs on say, an 8 turn?
Gary: You have some natural bluffs like gutshots. Some turned straight draws. But you also want to block their continues, which are often turned two pairs. So you can blast with hands like J8, T8, 98, etc. You turn your third pairs into bluffs to go with the gutshots.
Mike: You also have a bit of equity with those hands too. I think the solver will also use some flopped bottom pairs like 65s. You have the 6, therefore you block their two pair hands with a 6. The main point is that there are these unintuitive bluffs that you need to find. They may have some showdown value, but they are more valuable in terms of blocking your opponent’s continuing range.
Gary: One last tangent I want to go on. As Mike said, there are certain scenarios where you want to use your bottom pairs as bluffs. If you use a small flop bet size, your opponent should always raise with Pocket Sixes (on AK6). But versus your overbet size, they won’t raise as often. So they have more bottom sets in their range. This is why 76, 65, 64, etc at some frequency are really good bluffs because you block their sets.
When To Use Big Bet Sizes In 3-Bet Pots
Mike: Basically, none of the stuff we talked about applies in 3-bet pots because the pot is already big. Unless you are very deep, you don’t have to bet big to play for stacks.
Gary: Good thing we mentioned this. What we just spoke about is great advice, but it only applies to single-raised pots. In 3-bet pots, you don’t need to bomb the flop in order to play for stacks. You can bet small on the flop, double barrel for a standard size, and still comfortably jam river.
There are some spots where we want to bet big in 3-bet pots. And it’s kind of the opposite of single-raised pots. In 3-bet pots, you want to use a bigger bet size on boards where you aren’t doing very well on and when you’re out-of-position.
For example, the Button opens, we 3-bet the SB and the Button calls. There are boards we are doing really well on like Ace-high boards and single/double broadway boards like KQ4. There are okay boards like Ten-high boards where we want to use a 50ish% pot size. But 8-high boards and below, we aren’t doing that great anymore. On these boards where we aren’t doing that well, our sizing goes up and our frequency goes down.
There are two good rules of thumb here.
- You can use the big size on any 8-high and below flop that is not monotone or paired.
- The more connected the board, the more you check.
For example, on 872, if you use a 75% sizing, you should bet around 50% of the time. On a board like 654, we’re supposed to check virtually our entire range. On a board like 542, you’re supposed to check 75%-80% of the time.
The last tangent I want to go on: In any scenario in poker where we have a high check frequency, we need to back that up with a high check-raise frequency. So on a board like 872r, we’re supposed to check 50% of the time. We have lots of strong hands that we want to check-raise some of the time like Pocket Eights, 87s, AA, KK, etc. And we have plenty of bluffs to balance with like T9, J9, and even KQ with a backdoor flush draw.
Mike: If there’s one part where I think our listeners can get the most value from this episode, I think it’s where you talk about those two rules. Where you can use a big bet size on any 8-high board that is not monotone or unpaired. That makes a lot of sense. Your opponent can have sets and maybe a couple of two pair combos, but that’s it for hands that can beat your overpairs.
But on a board like 855, they can have more trips. And on monotone boards, it’s a game about who has more flushes. So your overpairs shrivel up a lot on these boards and you have to be more passive.
And then that second rule where when you have a very connected board, you’ll have a better time if you start with a check.
Like 654r, do you really want to juice the pot up with Kings when a quarter of the deck makes a 4-card straight? Plus, they can have more sets and two pairs. They crush you in the nut advantage, so you have to play really defensive, even with some strong hands. This protects your whole range and you can have some check-raises.
I think a lot of people have the logic where after you 3-bet with Aces from the Small Blind and the flop comes 876, they are like, ‘Well I have to bet because I don’t want a Ten to come on the turn — I have to protect my hand’. But if you really think about that, are you protecting your hand? Not really. For the most part, every hand that improves on a bad turn for you is calling your flop bet. So what are you protecting?
Mike: That’s all we have for you on big bet sizes. If you want to learn more about big bet sizes in general, I highly recommend checking out the Upswing Lab training course.
Gary has a Lab module coming out soon that’s all about nut advantage vs range advantage. And there are other modules that will help you with overbetting and betting big on the flop. You can use coupon code levelup to get $50 off the Upswing Lab. Learn more here!
Also, a quick reminder that the $40 million dollar duo of Darren Elias and Nick Petrangelo are releasing a new tournament course on Upswing Poker in May. It’s called Road to Victory, The Ultimate Tournament Course, and it’s a certified banger that no tournament player should miss.
You can also get some free value from Darren Elias over on the Upswing Poker YouTube channel. He’s released a couple of videos that give you a good idea of his teaching style so you can decide if the course is right for you.
See you next week when we cover a fun topic: Ace-high boards.