PLO Bet Sizing

In our continuing series on pot-limit Omaha strategy, we look at the tricky business of bet sizing and river play in PLO

This is part four in Michael Piper’s expert guide to pot-limit Omaha. You can view the previous parts of this series here;

Part One – Introducing PLO
Part Two – Preflop Strategy
Part Three – Aggression

In any big-bet (no-limit or pot-limit) game, the amount you choose to bet will be a big source of any edge you have on other players, as betting too little or too much will get you calls and folds you don’t want. Knowing how much to bet and why is almost as important as balancing your river strategy. With no more bets or cards to come after the river, it should be the easiest street to play. There are still decisions to make, though, and not only is this another opportunity to outplay your opponents, but the pots will also be bigger than on any other street, so mistakes are more costly. This is where your superior hand-reading will come to the fore: you’ve now had three streets of betting to evaluate your opponents’ actions, so you can put your opponent on a missed draw, the nuts, or a hand he’s desperate to show down, and only then do you think about your own hand.

Bet Sizing

If you have a strong made hand on the flop but suspect your opponent has draws to beat you, you should bet enough so that he can’t profitably call – when he does, he is putting money into your pockets. If he folds, well, at least he’s not getting a free shot to make the best hand. If you bet too little, you’re not giving your opponent a chance to make a mistake, unless you have him drawing dead or very thin.

As a general strategy, betting the same amount regardless of the strength of your hand is unexploitable. On certain boards, though, it’s unlikely anyone has anything, and if they do they’re calling regardless of how much you bet, so it makes sense to bet smaller, both as a bluff and with the goods. This is particularly true on boards with no draws available: on an A-A-K rainbow board, with A-K-x-x you’ve got the deck locked up, so you should bet smaller to entice people in. If you’ve got nothing, you’re risking less to win the pot, meaning your bet doesn’t have to work as often to show a good profit.

Conversely, on a more draw-heavy board, say Jc-Tc-7x, whether you’ve got the nuts, a big draw or air, if you’re betting you should be betting near the size of the pot. If you vary your bet sizes according to the board and your position rather than the strength of your hand, you can still prevent the regulars from getting a good line on your play.

On the turn you can generally afford to bet smaller, as draws have less equity, but on the river, you might bet anywhere between a fifth of the pot to the full pot. Against weak, unobservant opponents, you can toss aside your unexploitable strategy of always betting the same amount and size your bets according to what you think they have. If it’s very hard for an opponent to have anything, you should generally bet very small, which will sometimes induce a player to think you’re weak and raise – perfect if you have the goods! However, if you think he’s got something (albeit a marginal hand) then you should bet bigger – if you have a hand you’ll win more when he calls, and if you have nothing your bigger bet will elicit a fold more often. Against tough opponents you should still vary your bet sizing more than on other streets, but you must consider your history – when he last saw you bet small, did you show the nuts? If so, you can now feasibly represent a big hand.

River Play

The first thing to think about is what your opponent has. If a normally aggressive opponent check-calls on a drawing board, and the river blanks out, you’d correctly expect him to have nothing. On the other hand, a normally passive opponent betting the flop and turn probably has something and isn’t going to fold. Before making a decision, consider the board texture and your opponent’s actions up to this point, and try to put him on an accurate range of hands.

After three streets of betting, this is your best opportunity to get into your opponent’s head: review your play during the hand and try to work out what he thinks you have. If you bet a draw-heavy flop and check behind a blank turn, is he going to think you’re bluffing when all the draws miss the river? Conversely, if you bet a dry (uncoordinated) flop, check behind when the turn brings a flush draw, and bet when it comes in on the river, wouldn’t most people put you on a flush? Whether bluffing or value-betting, consider what it looks like you have, and bet if you’re confident your opponent won’t put you on what you’ve actually got.

Balance is a crucial concept in your river-betting strategy – if you bluff too often, people will call you with quite a wide range, so check back a little more often. You should also be value-betting with a wide range – once people see that you’re betting more than simply the nuts or complete bluffs, it becomes very difficult for them to look you up with a medium strength hand.

Out Of Position

All your river decisions will be easier in position, having seen one more street of betting on which to evaluate your opponent’s hand. Out of position, your options are limited and you should play defensively. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bet, just that you still have a variety of options available. If you have nothing and think your opponent has a hand he likes, check-fold; if you think he’s value-betting and bluffing some of the time, and you only have a bluff-catcher, you can check-call. You should also have a check-raise in your arsenal, to stop people value-betting you thin and bluffing you, but how frequently you check-raise with the nuts should be closely linked to how often you’re check-raising as a bluff.

However, the ‘blocking bet’, where you set the size of the bet, is your most powerful weapon in this spot. Also used on earlier streets with medium strength hands, you should be betting the river with a variety of hands, including the nuts, complete air, and when you think you have the best hand and don’t want to see a raise.

Final Thoughts

Many tight players will check behind with great hands on the river, fearing a check-raise, while many wild bluffers will bet in spots where it makes no sense. In order to get your value-bets paid off you will have to bluff from time to time; if you want your bluffs to get through you’ll need to show your opponents that you don’t just have the nuts or air when you bet the river. Always keep in mind your opponent’s profile and your history with him, before even considering how the hand has been played out.

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