The size of your bets is one of the most important factors at the tournament table. Nick Wright helps you tweak and refine yours to perfection
While every situation in no-limit hold’em tournaments is different, there are a few important factors that should be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to bet sizing. Whether you’re thinking of check-raising the river or simply opening a pot preflop, the most important factor is your stack size and the stacks of your opponents, as this will determine the range of options available to you.
For example, say you’re 100 big blinds deep and get dealt A-K on the button. If the two players to your left have 5BB and 7BB respectively, you’ve got a far easier decision than if they also have 100 big blinds each. Other key factors include board texture and position, both of which can force you to adjust your optimum bet size. Crucially, though, you should never change your bet size based on the strength of your holding, as this gives away free information to observant opponents.
The next point to note is that when betting for value you should manipulate your bet sizing according to the outcome you want to achieve later in the hand. The bets you make both pre and postflop on all streets should be connected, not separate actions.
Planning a hand from flop through to the river action isn’t always possible and re-evaluation is often needed, but here’s a simple example. Say you flop a set on a rainbow board and decide you want to play for stacks. At this point you should be planning how best to go about getting chips into the middle by betting enough on the flop and turn that by the time the river arrives you can move all-in for an amount that looks quite natural. This all sounds simple in theory, though in practice there’s a little more to it.
When you’re first into a pot you should always make your opening bet the same size, in terms of big blinds, to avoid giving information about the strength of your hand. A classic mistake is when players make a larger than usual raise with hands that they like but don’t really want to see a flop with. For instance, if a player’s standard open is to three times the big blind and they suddenly open to four big blinds, it’s likely they have a hand such as A-K, A-Q, or a medium pair up to and including Jacks.
In other words, hands that are quite possibly good now, but are likely to cause problems on the flop should they miss or overcards come. The actual size of your standard open is really up to you. For each blind level just pick a standard open-raise size and go with it. In terms of big blinds this can change from blind level to blind level but should be altered based on stack size not hand strength. For example, in the opening levels of tournaments when most stacks are somewhere between 40 and 100 big blinds a standard open to 3x BB is fine. Unless you’re playing a deep-stacked event, by the time it gets to around the 100/200 level and the antes kick in the average stack will be below 40 big blinds. When it reaches this stage it’s time to drop your open raise size a bit 2.5x is usually enough.
There are many reasons to reduce your raise size at this point. Once the stacks get shallower the aggression levels start to ramp up, meaning there is less flat-calling and more three-betting. Also, because stacks are shallower a smaller raise size accomplishes exactly the same ends as a larger raise, with the added benefit that you lose fewer chips should you have to release your hand. Don’t worry about giving the blinds better odds to call, as they’ll be out of position for the rest of the hand if they do get involved.
Once your stack and the effective stacks get to 20BB or less you can drop your raise size even further to just a min-raise or 2.2x. With this kind of stack you should rarely be opening and then folding to a three-bet. With 15 big blinds or less, especially if antes have kicked in, you should just open-shove any hand you play. Also, if you see a short stack min-raise preflop when previously they’ve been shoving, they may as well be waving a banner saying: ‘Hey I’ve got a big hand here!’
Of course you won’t always be the first person to come into the pot preflop with a raise – often you’ll have a good hand and want to put in a three-bet over an initial raise. Getting your three-bet sizing right is important, and factors like stack size and position are again key considerations. In position, making it somewhere in the region of two and a half to three times the initial raise is good. Out of position, it’s often wise to charge an opponent a little more to compensate for having position on you.
For instance, if someone raises to 150 with blinds of 25/50 and you¹re in the big blind, you should raise to about 525. Once your stack gets to the region of 25-35BB or less you really shouldn’t be three-betting and planning to fold. With a stack of less than 25BB a three-bet all-in is fine and standard. On the other hand, against players who fold to all-ins a lot but are happy to call off reraises light, three-betting to 9-11BB and planning to shove any flop is fine too.
Let’s start with the premise that we’ve decided we’re going to fire a continuation bet, but we’re not sure about the size. Firstly your c-bet size should not be altered based on the strength of your hand, as you should try to bet the same amount if you’re value-betting or bluffing to make your actions harder to read. Instead, the size of your c-bet (usually expressed as a percentage of the pot), should be based on the effective stacks, board texture and number of opponents. The shallower the stacks the smaller your c-bet size should be, as it’ll do the same job as a larger bet (as opponents will be forced to commit a larger percentage of their stack to a pot to call, as will you).
In the early stages of tournaments when stacks are still usually above 40BB, a standard c-bet of somewhere around two-thirds of the pot is fine. If the board is particularly draw-heavy bet a little more around 75-100% of the pot to charge players who wish to outdraw you. When stacks get shallower (under 40BB) you can drop the size of a standard c-bet to around half the pot, again betting slightly more on draw-heavy boards.
Turn and river
By the time the hand reaches the turn you should have a good idea of whether you wish to continue betting for value, as a semi-bluff or as a bluff, or if you’re going to check for pot control (when in position) or check and re-evaluate on the river (if out of position). You need to be aware of the effective stacks here and whether a turn bet commits you if an opponent moves all-in. Also, if you’re trying to set up a river shove you need to work out how much you need to bet on the turn to make a river shove natural.
If you suspect an opponent is drawing you’ll want to charge them to do so, but note that even if they have, say, 15 outs (a big combo draw), your turn bet does not have to be large in comparison to the pot to make calling a mistake. On the river you’ve got all the information available to you and this is the street that often has the biggest variety of bets in terms of size. When betting for value, players will often bet the amount they think an opponent can call and will thus bet small with big hands and big with weak hands.
This is a classic ‘strong equals weak’ tell and makes you very easy to play against. While you must tailor your bet to take into account both the range of hands you think your foe has and also what they think you have, you should get into the habit of betting similar amounts whether value-betting or bluffing. This way, your opponents are going to have a far tougher time making decisions against you.
In short then, the most important factors to consider when sizing your bets are stack size, position and board texture. Much has been written about those three and the first two in particular are two of the most important factors in all forms of poker. However, bet sizing is right up there too and if you start giving it the respect it deserves your results will start to soar.
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