A Beginners Guide to Poker Betting

The poker bet is the dividing line in the sand between chance and skill. Think about it like this; if you were to remove betting from poker, you would no doubt turn it into a game of chance. Players would just take the cards they were dealt to showdown and whoever made the best hand along the way would win.

However, since there is betting, players can force others to make costly mistakes, like draw to a flush with bad odds or force them to fold when they have the best hand. This is a skill. Betting is a skill.

And it’s a skill that many beginners lack, usually because they don’t understand the mechanics behind betting; how to size your bets, when to bet or why. That’s what I’m going to explain to you now.

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How to Size Your Bets

Beginners screw up bet sizing so bad. When you see someone over-betting the pot, or someone that 10x it preflop, you have to wonder if they’re just plucking numbers out of the air.

Some players do it that way, I’m sure. Others essentially turn their hands face up when they bet, betting large when they’re vulnerable and betting small when they want to show their hand down.

Regardless of the reason, this type of betting isn’t optimal. As a rule of thumb, you should only bet the amount it will take to get the job done. Sometimes this is a lot, and other times it won’t be very much at all.

Here are some specific examples (situations) to show you what I mean.

Pre-Flop Bet Sizing

A common theme that I see amongst beginners is that they size their preflop raises to be so big.

At some point, though, your bet becomes redundant. Meaning, a 10x bet preflop is going to achieve the same thing a 5x bet will. A 10x bet isn’t going to induce any more folds than a 5x bet will. So why bet (waste) the extra chips?

For some players, it’s because they feel that their hand is vulnerable. They don’t want their pocket jacks to be out-flopped, or they prefer to just take the blinds with their AKs.

Understandable, but again, betting extra doesn’t change anything. If someone wants to call you bad enough with 87s, they’re going to do it.

Keep in mind too, that betting this way also turns your hand face up. I will instantly put you on a range of pocket pairs up to jacks and AT to AK. If an ace or king is on the flop, then I can easily fold. But if you miss, I can go for thin value with a tiny pair, possibly even bluff you.

So what you should do instead is scale your betting back. The “standard” is 3-4x the big blind. For example, at 10/20 a bet of 60 or 80 chips is sufficient. It’s enough to give players bad odds to come along with speculative hands like 87s, JT and even pocket pairs.

Now, when multiple players limp in the pot, raising 3x isn’t going to make a difference. Meaning, if 5 players limp making the total pot 130 chips, raising to 60 isn’t going to have much fold equity. You’ll make the pot 190 chips and only 40 more to call, giving the first guy 4-1 odds. To put that into perspective, a player with 4-1 odds could call with pocket kings even if he knew you had aces, and break even. Each player after that player would get even better odds.

The right way to do raise in a limped pot is to raise 3x the big blind, plus 1 big blind for every limper. In the same situation, a better raise would look like 160 chips. The pot would then be 290 chips, and it would be 140 more to call, or 2-1 odds. Much, much better.

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Draw-y Boards

On a draw heavy board, hands like top pair, two pair and sets are vulnerable. So it blows my mind to see players min-bet into these pots.

You might as well check and give them a free card. It’s the same thing.

On these types of flops, it’s important that you bet enough. Your bet will serve 2 purposes:

  • You’re getting value from worse hands. I’ll cover this more below.
  • You’re charging the other player to make their hand aka you’re inducing mistakes.

However, you aren’t achieving either of these when you make a tiny bet.

For example, say there are 100 chips in the pot and 2 cards to a flush on the flop. If you’re opponent has 2 flush cards in the hole, you know that he is about 20% to hit on the flop. Pot odds of any less than 20% is profitable for him. That means it’s not a good idea to bet 20 chips. That will make the pot 120 chips, and 20 chips to call gives him odds of 16%.

Instead, you need to make a bet that gives him pot odds of 21% or more. The higher the better. At minimum you should bet 40 chips (22%), and I would be inclined to bet 50 (33%).

This is something I can’t drill into you enough. If you have a hand and you suspect that your opponent is on a draw, you have to bet, and bet big(ger). If you don’t, you’re not making as much money as you could be, and you’re making it profitable for your opponents to outdraw you, which will only cost you money in the long run.

Consistency in Your Betting

Being consistent with your bet sizes is important too.

For one thing, if your bet sizes are relative to the strength of your hand, as I mentioned above, you make it obvious as to what you have. You set yourself up to lose value on your stronger hands, and get outplayed on everything else.

Consistency isn’t just about bet sizing, but also about when you bet and the types of bets that you make. If every hand you play you limp preflop, with the exception of pocket aces, kings or queens, your opponents will pick up on that too. Another example would be check-raising flush draw boards when you are on the draw. Your opponents could pick up on this and just start checking back the flop instead.

All-in-all, consistency will prevent you from being read like a book.

Making Bets in Relation to the Pot Size

The last thing I wanted to mention about bet sizing is how to size your bets preflop. I’ve already talked about this a little above, so I’ll keep it short.

The mistake that I see beginners make is over-bet the pot. The over-bet can be a good tactic to maybe get a thin call or fold, depending on the dynamics. But it’s not something to use every time.

And I don’t think beginners are thinking like this anyway.

But over-betting the pot comes back to what I mentioned above about the size of your bets eventually accomplishing the same thing. For example, if there was 465 chips in the pot, it wouldn’t matter if you bet 400 or 500, it does the same thing. The one difference, though, is that one costs you more money when you lose.

The bets you make should almost always be in the realms of 1/2 to 2/3 the size of the pot. So if the pot was 465, an ok bet would be 235 (half) or 350 (2/3). Depending on the flop texture, 400 or 425 would be ok too. Betting 500, 724 or shoving all in is excessive, and unnecessary.

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Your Bets Should Have a Purpose

The last thing I wanted to talk about is having a reason for each bet that you make. There are only 3 reasons why you should make a bet:

  • Betting for value. That means when you make a bet, you expect a worse hand to call you. This includes draws.
  • Betting to bluff. This means that you don’t expect to have the best hand at showdown, but you think you can make a better hand fold.
  • Betting for dead money. This is neither for value or as a bluff, but instead for the extra money in the pot. Common “dead money” situations include continuation betting or re-shoving in tournaments.

These are the only reasons for betting in poker. Many players make the mistake of thinking that when they bet, they’re betting for protection or information. But betting for protection and/or information is a cause and effect of betting for value, as a bluff or for dead money. When you bet, you get one and/or the other.

If your hand doesn’t fall into any of these 3 categories, then you don’t bet.

Keep in mind too, that having a made hand doesn’t automatically mean that you can bet for value. There has to be a hand that you can get value from. For example, on a K-7-4 rainbow flop, what type of hand are you getting value from if you have a pair of 4s? A king will call. So will a seven, at least for one street. Better pairs then 7s will call a street too. You don’t beat any of these hands, so betting (for value) makes no sense. Your job with a pair of 4s is to try to get to showdown.

The same thing applies to bluffing or betting for dead money. You actually have to have fold equity. In other words, your opponent needs to be capable of folding and/or the “story” makes sense — your range hits the board squarely, and your betting backs up what you’re trying to represent. Don’t just bluff because your hand isn’t going to be good at showdown. You have to be confident that a bet has fold equity.