A Guide to Bet Sizing

Betting is everything in poker. It accomplishes tasks like extracting value, protecting your hand, building stacks, inducing folds and bluffs.

Equally as important is bet sizing. $10 either way (from what you actually bet) can be the difference between picking up or losing that pot, or worse, busting a tournament or and tucking your tail between your legs as you turn off your computer and walk away.

Many beginners find bet sizing difficult, often not finding that sweet spot. So they experience a lot of variance, early tournament exits and tapped bankrolls.

My goal is to help you with that.

Betting Fundamentals for Poker Beginners

Bet sizing is one of those skills that require a little bit of theory, application and experience. I’m going to focus more on the theory now. From here you’ll want to put this into practice, learn from your successes and failures, and then adjust.

Lets start.

Don’t Bet Too Little or Too Much

A common mistake I see is a player betting too much or not enough; they don’t find the sweet spot. Unfortunately, this comes with consequences.

When you bet too much you risk more money than is necessary to accomplish your goal. Sure, when you win you take down a large pot. However, when you lose – and being as you’re a beginner, I would say you lose more often than win – you lose a lot. This means larger ups and downs.

Think about it like a graph. Your goal is to have a large, consistent increase in your winnings, with the occasional loss. The longer the upside and shorter the downside, the less variance you experience.

But if you bet too much, and lose, your losses get larger and your variance increases. Your large wins are followed by large losses. There is less profit and slower progress.

So betting too much is bad and is almost always unnecessary.

If you go to the other extreme and bet too little, you’re either not maximizing the fold equity you have or extracting enough value for your hand.

For example, if you want your opponent to fold, do you think a 10 chip bet into a 100 chip pot is going to do that?

No way – your opponent will make the call with a wide range of hands, including ace and king highs, if anything because they’ll be priced in to do it. At this price you’re also giving gutshot straight draws the go ahead to outdraw you.

And if you have a strong hand, say pocket aces or a set, don’t you want more chips for your ‘monster?’ You leave so much money on the table by betting too little, and that can add up to a substantial sum over the course of your poker career.

Your goal should be to find the sweet spot between too much and too little. Your bets should be just right.

A Good Starting Point

So what is the sweet spot? That will fluctuate every hand, and will depend on things like your opponent, the pot size, (effective) stack sizes, positions, situation, etc. But here are a few guidelines you can follow.

  • Open raise – I recommend open raising 2-4x the big blind, depending on the blind level and game you’re playing.
  • Raise with limpers – When players limp into the pot, and you want to raise, I suggest raising 2-4x the big blind plus 1 big blind for every limper.
  • Re-raises (3-bets) – I prefer to 3.5x.
  • Continuation bets – Bet 1/2 to 2/3 the pot.
  • Over bets – If you’re a beginner I would avoid making over bets (bets bigger than the pot).

Again, this is just a starting point. You’ll want to play with these numbers a bit to find the right bet sizing for your particular situation, risk/variance threshold and playing style.

Avoid Making Yourself Easy to Read

Another bet related leak I see from players is sizing their bets in relation to what hand they’re holding.

What I’ve seen players do is bet little – even min-raise – when they have a hand like pocket aces or kings. They clearly want action.

However, when they have a hand like AK or pocket jacks, they’ll raise a lot. Sometimes as much as 5-8x the big blind.

In other cases, with small to medium pocket pairs they’ll shove all in. They don’t want to worry about over cards on the flop.

On the flop players will freak out if there are draws and they have a hand, and will often bet a lot or shove to discourage opponents from going any further in the hand.

This is all easy to read. And once you (the opponent) have a read that the fish do this, you can easily fold to the large bets or min-raises, call the shoves with 10s or better and donk bet every flop they limp. As a default that strategy will work.

Easy stuff.

Now, if I just described you, what I recommend doing is making your bet sizing the same. I prefer playing aggressive, so I would stick to my chart above and raise all of your hands 2-4x. That way your opponents won’t know if you have AA or 72. This will make it harder for anyone to determine what cards you have, which means if done well, you can make more money with your made hands.