A common leak among beginning poker players is incorrect bet sizing, especially when their bets are too small. You’re not one of these people, right? Right?!
I always shake my head when I see villains making tiny little bets ranging from 25-50% of the pot, and sometimes even smaller. I sat in a juicy online game a while ago where two of the players at the table treated the game like some kind of ersatz limit game, making min-bets that were never larger than the size of the big blind. What exactly were these guys trying to achieve with these itty-bitty bets? I believe they themselves don’t know. Do you? Let’s look a little more closely at this notion…
Tournament players often tend to bet on the smallish side, primarily because tournament stacks are relatively shallow and the threat of getting knocked out is never far away. Whether this is reasonable or not is another question, but in cash games, the answer is much more definitive: small bets are rarely—if ever—the right play. Stacks are deeper, and you can always rebuy if you lose your stack. And, more to the point, small bets rarely achieve what we want them to do: build a pot or make someone fold.
For the 1,000th time: the primary reason we bet in poker is to achieve one of two things: a) to get worse hands to call (a.k.a. “value” betting); or, b) to get better hands to fold (a.k.a. “bluffing”). Small bets have very little positive effect in either situation.
For example, imagine that you have a strong hand and want to extract value from someone who thinks their own hand is strong, but in fact is worse than yours. Betting small indeed gives the villain incentive to call, but you’re making very little money off the situation. If your opponent indeed thinks their own hand is strong, they will likely call a much larger bet. Why bet (and profit) small, when you can instead bet (and profit) big in this situation?
Or, imagine that you think your opponent has a better hand than you, but you think they might fold if you put pressure on them. How much pressure do you think a 25% pot-size bet really applies to them? Answer: very little. In fact, if they’re savvy enough to know how to calculate pot odds they’ll realize that their hand only has to be good a small fraction of the time to make a call correct. In other words, they should call, which is plus-EV for them. Which means in minus-EV for you, and you’re essentially taking the worst of it when they do.
Rarely is there a reason in poker to bet smaller than 50% of the pot. A good rule of thumb for sizing on the flop, turn, and river is to bet between 60-80% of the current pot, whether you’re bluffing or value betting.
If your opponents are not paying attention to your betting patterns, you might be able to bet on the lower end of this scale when bluffing (to risk less), and on the higher end when value betting (to profit more)— but even bad players will eventually pick up on this kind of bet sizing tell. Therefore, in general I recommend keeping your bets more or less constant in size, regardless of whether you’re bluffing or value betting.
Bottom Line: Stop Thinking Small!
Exceptional Poker — Learn. Master. Crush.