Imagine you’re playing $1/$2.
You raise preflop with 8♥ 7♥ and get called by the player in the big blind. The flop comes…
…and your opponent checks.
Now, you know you want to bet with your low flush draw, but you aren’t sure which size to choose.
If this sounds like you, keep reading. You’re about to learn exactly how to choose between small and big bet sizes at the poker table.
Small vs. Big Bet Sizes: The Fundamentals
Let’s start with the basics.
The fundamental differences between small and big bet sizes are:
- Players should fold more often versus big bets than small bets (see: minimum defense frequency and pot odds).
- Your bluffs need to work less often to be profitable when betting small compared to betting big (also tied to minimum defense frequency and pot odds).
- You must bluff less often to remain balanced when betting small vs. betting big (see: bluff-to-value ratios).
Defining “Small” and “Big”
What qualifies as a “small” and “big” bet changes relative to the street you’re on.
Your small bet size on the flop should usually be between 25% and 33% of the pot, whereas your big bet size should be 66% or more of the pot.
Your small bet size on the turn/river should usually be between 66% and 75% of the pot, whereas your big bet size should be 90% or more of the pot.
Flop Bet Sizing
Note: Before we dive deeper into this topic, you should know that any bet size can be good as long as you bet with the correct range given your size. It’s possible to build very strong flop c-betting ranges (that retain 98%+ of the equilibrium EV) both in position and out of position with almost any bet size if you use the correct hands (which is easier said than done).
That being said, through solver work, some flop bet sizing patterns have emerged and they are in line with what poker players’ intuitions have been telling them for years. Those patterns were observed to form the heuristics in the following sections.
Here are some general patterns that I’ve observed on the flop (regardless of playing in position or out of position):
- The dryer and more disconnected the board is, the smaller and more frequently solvers elect to bet overall.
- The wetter and more connected the board is, the larger and less frequently solvers elect to bet overall.
- Weaker hands tend to be bet for smaller sizes by solvers.
- Stronger hands tend to be bet for larger sizes by solvers.
All of these are pretty intuitive. The challenge lies in balancing your value hands with the appropriate number of bluffs. That’s beyond the scope of today’s topic, but you can learn more about balancing and bluffing in these articles:
- How to Win More Chips with Your Bluff-to-Value Ratios
- Bluffing in Poker Explained (by Doug Polk)
- Which Draws Should You Semi-Bluff?
Let’s move on to the turn and river.
Turn and River Bet Sizing
Capped ranges are more common on the turn/river than on the flop, and the presence of capped ranges should have a major impact on your sizing strategy.
A capped range is a range that contains no (or very few) strong hands, such as overpairs, two-pairs, sets, straights, flushes, etc.
When one player has a capped range and the other doesn’t, it makes sense for the uncapped player to start overbetting. This will allow the uncapped player to profit more with both his strong hands and his bluffs.
For the strongest hands in your range, overbetting gives you a chance to win the biggest possible pot. Since these strong hands in your uncapped range beat every (or almost every) hand in your opponent’s capped range, you can comfortably aim to take his whole stack.
Overbetting also allows you to profitably bluff more often with the weak hands in your range. If you recall from the fundamentals section above, the bigger you bet, the more often you can bluff while remaining balanced.
It’s a win-win for your whole range!
Caution: you should only use overbets when your opponent’s range is capped and your range isn’t. When you’re up against an uncapped range, the solver elects to bet a more standard size of 66-80% of the pot.
Very Small Bet Sizes on the Turn and River
One last thing to note about turn/river bet sizing strategy is that you are usually not incentivized to bet less than 66% of the pot.
On the turn/river, your opponent’s range will oftentimes contain a lot of bluff-catchers and far fewer drawing or unpaired hands than he would have on the flop (provided he called a c-bet on the flop). To put those bluff-catchers in a tough spot and to allow yourself to bluff more often, you should avoid frequent small betting on the turn and river.
That’s not to say you should never bet very small on the turn or river. To learn when and why such bets are appropriate, read Matt Janda’s This is Why You Should Use Small Bet Sizes.
Small vs Big Bet Quiz (3 Quick Questions)
Before we say goodbye, let’s see how well you absorbed the tactics and strategies you just read about. (Note the changes to what qualifies as a “small” or “big” bet on the flop question compared to the turn/river questions.)
Let me know how you did in the comments!
Back to That 8♥ 7♥
By now, you should know which size you should choose on that J♥ 6♥ 2♠ flop from the introduction.
A small bet (25-33% pot) is the best option on this flop. This is because the board is quite disconnected. The only connected cards (the 6 and the 2) don’t interact much with the big blind’s calling range.
Today we focused on bet sizing from a theoretical point of view, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t include this bit of exploitative advice:
You should always feel free to try to adjust your bet sizing to take advantage of the holes you notice in your opponent’s game.
At the end of the day you are not playing against a computer. You’re playing against a fellow human who is susceptible to biases and mistakes. If you can exploit those mistakes with a certain bet size, you should not pass up on that opportunity.
That’s a wrap on small vs big bet sizes! If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to use the comment section down below.
For further reading, check out “Should You Ever Donk-Bet On The Flop?“
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