One of the required skills for NL play is betting/raising the proper amount for each situation. (I'll always use bet as an example but the same reasoning applies to raises.) To bet the proper amount the simplest approach would be; to bet big when you have a good hand and to bet small when you have a poor hand. Of course, even the simplest opponents will quickly recognize this betting pattern and using it will eventually lead to bankroll ruin. In fact strict adherence to any pattern usually leads to failure. So regardless of what strategy you pick, you should always have some variation, which keeps your opponents at least some what confused. So let's look at some of the strategies and address how you may vary those strategies to keep your opponents off balance.
There are really only three or four ways to select your bet. You can base your bet on the size of the blinds - many tournament players enter the pot preflop with a raise of 3-4 x Big Blind. The size of the pot, all or a portion, (in many cases 3-4 x BB is a pot sized bet), and finally you may base your bet or raise on stack sizes. Which method you select really depends on the situation, and you may even elect to change during a hand.
Let's look at these different strategies and examine when each works the best.
- The major advantage of NL over Limit is the ability to manipulate the pot odds. So it only follows that the best basis for sizing the bet is the size of the pot. In its simplest form, recommended by some experts, simply bet the size of the pot. If you bet the size of the pot, you are always offering a single opponent 2:1 on his money. Betting the size of the pot every time, regardless of the hand; nuts, draw or bluff, disguises your hand and builds the pot, but it can be expensive when bluffing. Additionally when betting a draw you offer yourself only 2:1 odds, instead of the 4:1 or 5:1 that you would prefer. If you have the nuts, you can't use a smaller sized value bet because that would quickly develop into an exploitable pattern. Using this approach has varied play built in and is excellent for the beginner who should only be peddling the nuts and not making fancy plays.
- Betting a percentage of the pot, ranging from 30% to 200% of the pot is a good adaptation of the pot sized bet. You can bluff, bet your draws, for a smaller amount, and use more call-able value bets with the nuts. You can actually manipulate the pot size to give yourself the proper pot odds for your hand. If you have a good hand you use pot sized or slightly larger bets to punish everyone on a draw, since the pot size bet offers them only 2:1. If you are on the draw you can bet 30% of the pot and give yourself 4:1 pot odds. Your bluffing cost is reduced by 60% and many opponents will call a small value bet into a large pot, when you have the nuts. If you elect to use this method of bet sizing you must make a conscious effort to vary your play or you can easily fall into a pattern, detectable by your opponents. When you bet the pot every time your play is varied automatically because you bet every hand exactly the same way. Since you can't simply bet small with draws and bluffs, but bet large with made hands, you have to vary your play in other ways. This chart is simply an example. There are many ways to adjust it based on position and the actual size of the pot at the time of the bet.
| Hand||Pot ||<1/2 Pot ||>3/4 Pot ||>5/4 Pot |
|8 out draw ||50%||35%||14%||1%|
| 12 out draw||25%||50%||20%||5%|
| Made hand||10%||20%||50%||10%|
* You should check/call with nuts only if you think there will be a subsequent bet so you can reraise, or check-raise.
- Basing your bet on the stack size is another method of selecting your bet, and is simply a modification of
betting a percentage of the pot size. Instead of betting 1/2 the pot, you bet 1/2 the stack. This is best
when stack sizes are very large compared to the pot size and implied odds have become more
than pot odds. If both you and your opponent have stacks of $1000 and the pot is only $5, a
pot sized bet
is insignificant for a good drawing hand. You also need a good read on your opponent, or
you need to hold
the nuts. When you have the nuts, your goal should be, to get 100% of your opponent's
stack. A chart
based on stack size should be more conservative, unless you have a special situation, (You
stacked in a tournament.) and might look something like this.
| Hand||Call||<15% stack||~50% stack||>75% stack|
|8 out draw ||85%||10%||5%||0%|
| 12 out draw||75%||15%||5%||5%|
| Made hand||10%||30%||20%||10%|
When dealing with stacks instead of the size of the pot, you prefer to keep the pot very small until you have a made hand, and you don’t want to reopen betting for possible reraises that you cannot call.
- Finally basing your bet size on the big blind.
I'm not a big fan of this strategy for a couple of reasons: After the flop, the size of the blinds is meaningless. In most cases before the flop, a pot sized bet is roughly equal to three big blinds anyway. The one exception is during tournament play from late position with several limpers and a marginal hand, I might raise 3xBB instead of the pot. This raise is cheaper and many tournament players will automatically put you on a big pair or A-K. This bet disguises my hand and often they will check to me after the flop.Of course everything in poker is situational and not only will you change your bet sizing strategy for each game and relative stack sizes, you might change it based on your opponent. You might even change it during the hand. Preflop if the pot is small, it might work to simply bet the size of the pot, but after you flop the nuts, a switch to relative stacks might provide the most profit. So much of the situation depends upon the willingness of your opponent to fold to a bet and the strength of his hand.
One final note - I know that I often harp on never saying "always" or "never," (and meaning it), and this discussion brings up one of those situations, that illustrates why you shouldn't use those terms. If you are the last to act, holding the nuts against a player who will call a bet all-in, you might consider checking and leaving him money, if the game is very good but apt to break-up if he busts out.