There are a lot of factors to consider when playing No-Limit Hold'em, and one of the most important, yet least discussed, is bet-sizing.
The 3 Reasons to Bet
To begin learning how to size your bets correctly, you first have to understand a bet's purpose. There are three basic reasons for making a bet:
1. To get more money in the pot (You're winning and want to win more.)
2. To get everyone to fold (You want to win right now.)
3. To thin the field (You have a better chance of winning with fewer opponents.)
Generally, the first two reasons are common after the flop, and the last reason is common before the flop-though also used post-flop. Let's look at them individually and talk about how best to accomplish each goal.
Getting More Money in the Pot
Despite how straightforward this task seems, it's surprising how often people bet an amount that almost guarantees they'll fail. The hand at the top of this page is a hand I saw at a recent tournament I played in at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
It's early in the tournament and the blinds are still small. There has been some minor betting until the river. Both players have about US$5,000 in front of them and the pot is US$400. Player 1 bets US$300 and Player 2 goes all in, raising US$4,700. Player 1 shows an Ace and a Nine for two pair and folds. Player 2 shows a King and a Nine for a Full House and says, "Good fold."
Do you see the mistake? By betting so much, he gave his opponent no chance to put more money into the pot. He was thinking, "I have a great hand, I should bet a lot of money," instead of thinking, "How can I win the most money with this hand?"
Tip: When you're certain you're winning, bet an amount you think your opponent can call.
Getting Everyone to Fold
When you're bluffing, and need to win without showing your cards, you must do the opposite as above and bet an amount you think your opponent won't call. Seems easy, but a lot of times people become scared when bluffing and bet too little. Other times, they bet way too much, and their bluffs aren't profitable, as the few times they're called ends up costing them more than their profits on their previous bluffs.
Wanting everyone to fold is not always a bluff. Sometimes you're ahead and still want everyone to fold.
"If they never fold, you'll probably win," says Mike Caro. "If they always fold, you'll definitely win." Still, you can't just shove all your chips in the middle whenever you think you're ahead, or that one time you're not, you're going to find yourself broke. You must let pot odds be your guide on this one.
If your opponent has a 3-1 chance of beating you, then you must bet more than half the pot. For instance, in a US$100 pot, if you bet US$50, your opponent must call US$50 to make US$150, which is exactly 3-1. Bet a little more and his pot odds become worse than his chance at winning and he's making a mistake if he calls.
Tip: Bets of around two thirds to three quarters of the pot show the best risk/reward ratio when considering a bluff or punishing drawing hands.
Thinning the Field
Some hands play better with fewer opponents. Actually, most hands play better with fewer opponents, but your power hand -- big pairs and big connectors -- suffer the most from having too many opponents. A pair of Aces is at worst a 4.5-1 favorite against a single player, while against a full table it becomes a 2-1 dog.
Bets of 2.5 to 3.5 times the big blind in a tournament (US$25 to US$35 if the big blind is US$10), or 4 to 5 times the big blind in a cash game is usually enough to get the job done.
Tip: Bet big enough to thin the field, but small enough to disguise your hand and keep yourself out of trouble when you're the one drawing.