If you play $1/$2 or $2/$5, you’ve no doubt seen some weird bet sizes. What do they mean? What do they telegraph about a player’s range? And how can you use them to confuse and exploit your opponents?
All this and more is covered in our first podcast dedicated to odd and off-tempo bet sizing. Whether it’s small raises against many limpers, or big overbets vs. nits, Coaches Ed Miller and Doug Hull host and discuss myriad ways to get creative with bet sizing.
What’s the Point of your Bet Size?
Hull and Miller start off by focusing on pointless bet sizing — hands in which there is no holding a player could have that would benefit from the odd sizing.
Here’s one example given: At a $1/$2 table, two players limp and the next player raises to $5. What’s going to happen in this scenario? We hope it’s obvious: everyone’s going to call.
The min raise into multiple limpers is pointless. Sure, it might be better than limping, but with almost every situation, you’re going to have a better choice.
You want a bigger pot when you have a premium hand, but the edge is going to be so small and so hard to actualize, because there is no isolation. This player will be up against so many other hands.
Hull talks about his bet sizing philosophy preflop: he wants it to be a difficult decision for his opponents. If he makes a min raise into limpers, everyone’s calling. If he makes it $100, they’re all folding anything but premium hand. Hull learned from Soto to dial in a pain threshold preflop where your opponent just doesn’t know what to do.
Miller concurs, this is not necessarily something to deploy in every hand, but it’s great to whip out in spots where you know you can get the most out of your situation.
Hull and Miller commiserate around one of Hull’s recent students making a big raise into multiple limpers preflop, and having another player dub the student “Sir Raise-a-Lot”. When another player’s only defense is to shame you, you know you’re onto something strategy-wise.
How to Play Awkward Jacks
Miller and Hull discuss a hand in which a typical nit raises first in to $30 in early position, at a $1-$2 game. Hull wondered, “What if someone 3-bet this?” Sure enough, he saw a situation in which it went down, and the nit folded.
Miller says this is a classic move with JJ. The out-of-character big raise does not signal AA or KK so much as a scared but nonetheless premium hand. They are trying to quixotically pick up the blinds to avoid running into a better pair on rare occasion it flops.
This evolves into a general conversation about pocket jacks and the old adage that, “There are three ways to play jacks preflop, and they are all bad.”
Miller points out that it’s players overvaluing jacks that gets them into trouble. But instead of focusing on some special nature to jacks, Miller advises you just play poker.
As Miller points out in The Course, you are supposed to lose sometimes. Even 72o is going to beat AA roughly 1 out of 10 times.
What it all comes down to is: You can only play poker. Jacks are not some rare and special flower when you get called in five spots. You have a hand, they have a hand. Play poker.
Circling back to the original example, Hull points out that when you run into aces, kings and queens, you will know it! The math says this will happen 10-15% of the time. Raising huge in early position only makes sense with the most premium of premiums, in situations where you think you’ll be paid off.
Hull draws on his research with unstudied players to point out that they tend to try to win pots, not win money. The difference may be semantically subtle but at depth it is huge. Players who try to win pots can be ruthlessly exploited.
The Uncommon Upside Scenario
Miller compares winning at poker to business, stocks, and many money-centric pursuits. It’s not so much grinding out that 1% return on investment over the long-term, as it is investing in opportunities to make a big return on a small investment. If many of those opportunities don’t pan out, it doesn’t matter, because the ones that do reap huge rewards. Compare this to a nittier style where wins are more guaranteed, losses more prevented, but the bankroll grows and shrinks in frustratingly small dents.
Miller’s advice? “Put yourself in the situation where you can benefit from the relatively unlikely event,” that you get the right hand and the right run out versus the right opponent with the right hand to make a huge impact in your bankroll.
The money that you get in these spots is putting yourself in the spot where good things can happen, you can get lucky and rake the $1000 pot. Don’t shut things down out of fear.
Hull adds, “When fate does finally smile upon you, make sure to get full value.”
Dealing with a Donk Bet on the Turn
Hull brings up another pointless bet sizing mistake: A player raises to $12 preflop and is called in five spots. Nothing wrong with that other than a less-than-ideal player pool going into the flop, but Hero did their best to isolate.
What our coaches find offensive is the donk bet postflop by the second-positioned player, who pushed $15 into a pot of $60. Hull cannot think of a hand where this is optimal. Unless you’re specifically manipulating someone to raise, Miller says, this makes no sense. This was definitely not what this unsophisticated player was doing.
The key to realizing the mistake, Miller says, is asking, “If not X, how about Y?” to find the correct pain threshold in your raise sizing.
Massive Underbet on a Flush Draw Board with Middle Pair
This is another bet sizing mistake Hull sees a lot of players making a weak bet on a scary flop and ending up giving proper pot odds for a call.
Miller sees a huge tell in these small bets into flush draw boards. They almost telegraph that your hand is not strong enough to bet bigger. Everybody knows when a flush draw is on the board, you want people to pay if they’re drawing. A weak bet on these types of flops is ill-advised.
Hull will often ask students what they would do with different hands in certain situations to illustrate that players should give more credence to the information gleaned from the situation, rather than focusing solely on hole cards. Miller concurs this is the crux of poker — it is an information game.
Massive Overbet on Flop
Another thing Hull and Miller identified as a less-sophisticated move is to make a massive overbet on a flop — typically a very dry, safe one — as if to telegraph, “I had enough sense not to advertise my premium hand preflop… now that the board is safe, I feel comfortable doing so.”
Especially in a short-stack scenario typical of $1/$2, the only hands that call you here crush you. Always understand why you are making a bet!