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One of the most common mistakes essentially all no-limit hold’em players make is to use the incorrect bet size. The game is called ‘no-limit’ for a reason! If you find that you consistently use the same bet size in most situations, you are certainly leaving money on the table. Instead, you should adjust your bet size based on your range, your opponent’s range, and how you expect your opponent to respond to your bet.
The most common bet size used by many recreational players is a bet of about 50 percent of the size of the pot. If the pot is $100, they bet $50, while the optimal bet may be $25, $75, or even $150, depending on the situation.
Suppose in a tournament with 100-200 blinds, you raise from middle position to 500 in with A K and only the player in the big blind calls. On K 8 4, giving you top pair top kicker on a somewhat uncoordinated board, you should use a small bet of roughly 300 into the 1,100 pot.
Pretty much no matter what your opponent has, he is in terrible shape. Also, you are not susceptible to being outdrawn on most turns. Realize that it is somewhat difficult for your opponent to have a strong hand that can call large bets on the flop, turn, and river. So, in this situation, you should bet small, 300 into the 1,100 pot. While a 300 bet and a 500 bet may not appear too different, most opponents will call much more often when facing the smaller bet size, inducing mistakes on the turn and river.
If instead the flop came K Q 8, you should bet much larger, 800 into the 1,100 pot. Now your top pair is quite vulnerable. Any queen, jack, ten, nine, eight, or club could easily improve your opponent to the best hand, and other random cards may also be bad when they give your opponent a disguised set or two-pair. It is also probable that your opponent has a decently strong hand that can call a large bet, like a king, queen, or draw.
As a general tip, when the board is coordinated, you should tend to bet on the larger side with all your hands that want to bet, and when it is less coordinated, you should bet smaller.
It is also important that you choose the correct bet size on the later betting rounds. If your range on the river is almost entirely premium hands (such as when all the draws come in) and it is difficult for your opponent to have a worse premium hand, meaning they probably have a marginal hand or nothing, you should bet small. If instead lots of draws miss, meaning you could have lots of bluffs, you should instead bet large with your betting range.
Bet sizing is by far the most difficult aspect of no-limit hold’em. Next time you are playing, be sure to constantly ask yourself “what do I want my bet to accomplish and which size will do that.” You will find that generic half-pot bets are almost never the best answer.
If you want to learn more about choosing the optimal bet size, I have many in-depth classes on the topic in my training site that will help you choose the best bet size every time. Check it out at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer. ♠
Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and best-selling poker author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. If you want to learn how to play fundamentally sound poker and increase your win rate, check out PokerCoaching.com. Click here to try PokerCoaching.com for free.