Bet sizing is an important factor in how much money you make both in the short term and the long term. A player who knows how to maximize value from their hands will make much more than a player who is shooting in the dark. Bet sizing pre-flop and post-flop alike will depend on a number of dynamics.
The most important elements in bet sizing are your hand strength and your opponent. Needless to say, this is very much an oversimplification of the matter. When it comes down to it though, these are the only real important factors that will make a real difference in the end.
Step Back and Think First
Think about what you do when you raise pre-flop (or what you should be doing, anyway). You look at your cards, look at who else is in the pot, and then fold, call, or raise. At its very core, there is not a whole lot else that goes into bet sizing and decision making. Yes, there are some finer elements, but they all relate back to these two central ideas in one way or another.
Bet sizing pre-flop and bet sizing post-flop are two entirely different things. Pre-flop play, in the vast majority of games, is largely a mastered art. It wouldn’t be fair to say that anyone is perfect at pre-flop play, as that certainly isn’t true, but most games have their regulars who understand pre-flop play very well. It doesn’t take a genius to know that pocket aces should be a 4 or 5 bet shove all in. On the other hand, it takes a very skilled player to know how to maximize value from a set or top two pair. Navigating your way through any hand is not going to be easy if you hope to make any real money. If there is one area of your game where you will be able to dominate your opponents, it is definitely in bet sizing.
Anyone can call a bluff, check raise the river, or 3 bet light, but not everyone knows the proper bet sizing for any move that they make. Bet sizing is what can set you apart from the competition. If you watch some of the top high stakes pros in the world, you will see them make some plays that seem awfully weird and out of line. According to traditional poker strategy, over betting top pair makes no sense at all. When you become an expert on bet sizing, however, everything will become much clearer. Even if you wouldn’t be able to make these particular plays on your own, you should be able to understand why they were made. Understanding a thought process is much more beneficial than seeing whether or not it works.
Pre-Flop Bet Sizing
In 6-max games of any kind, the raising and action pre-flop is going to be very hyper and aggressive. You will be hard pressed to find any 6-max games where any more than one player at the table is limping into pots. This is because most players, by now, have learned that open limping into a hand is a losing strategy. With that in mind, you will need to be all that much more prepared to make the most effective bets possible. Weak players will make their hand strength transparent, but skilled players will disguise their hands while also realizing maximum value. One thing you should never do is make your hand obvious by your bet sizing alone. Yes, your hand strength and raises should be in some sort of synchronization, but it doesn’t mean that your opponents have to know exactly what you are doing.
A standard open raise in 6-max games is to 3.5x or 4.5x the big blind. In other words, an open raise at .50/1 would be to $3.50 or $4. By default, a pot sized raise will be to $3.50. There is no definitive right or wrong answer to this, but for the purpose of extracting value, 4x would be the best. As you move up in limits, you are going to notice that the opening raise sizes tend to be diminishes, if only slightly.
Now that you know how much to open the action for if you are first to act, you need to know how to compensate for limpers, other raises, and on and so forth.
A great general guideline for raising with limpers ahead of you is to raise 4x (or 3.5x) the big blind plus one big blind per limper. In other words, if you are in late position with AK and two players have already limped into the pot, your raise would be to $6. This $6 is made up of $4 (open raise), plus $2 ($1 for each limper). You can adjust these bets slightly depending upon your precise hand strength, position, and your opponents. For example, AA in middle position with two limpers could get away with raising to $7 to ensure that the field is more thinned out and that it is extracting maximum value. Likewise, QK could raise to $5 to keep the risk down to a minimum. Small adjustments can and should be made on an as needed basis.
Re-raises are when things start to get more dynamic, tricky, and risky. If your intent is to extract value, the best rule to follow is that a 3 bet should be large and a 4 bet should be small. Large 3 bets are your opportunity to suck in a player while forcing them to pay for it. On the other hand, a 4 bet should be small because the player is clearly already invested into the hand, so you should now be ensuring that they come along for the whole ride. In other words, a 3 bet does not want to let a player IN too cheaply, while a small 4 bet aims to keep a player from getting OUT too cheaply. Involve players and then keep them on the line.
Post-Flop Bet Sizing
An entire book could be written on post-flop bet sizing alone. There are so many different situations that it would be literally impossible to cover each and every one. With that in mind, here are some common spots and their relative, effective bet sizing.
Continuation Bet Sizing
Continuation bets do not shoot for maximum value; quite the opposite in fact. Your strategy when c-betting should be to bet the least amount possible that will force your opponent to fold. These bets should be small enough that they do not cost you a lot of money, but large enough that your opponent won’t see another card or raise you no matter what they are holding. A good number to stick to for c-bets is right around 2/3 of the pot.
Say that you raised to $4.50 pre-flop in a .50/1 game and had one caller. If the pot on the flop was $12 and you missed, a good continuation bet would be around $8. $7 could also do the job if you felt particularly weary of the board. Remember that bigger bets do not necessarily equate to a greater amount of success in c-betting. If a player was folding to $8, they were probably also folding to $7. Likewise, if they were calling $9, they were also calling $8. Remember that you want a fold now and don’t plan to make any money from your c-bet down the line, so there is no point in value betting yourself into oblivion.
Betting Made Hands
Betting made hands on the flop is completely different than c-betting the flop. With a c-bet, you know that you have nothing and are willing to give up if you face opposition. You don’t want to build a pot with a c-bet, where you should be building solid pots with your made hands. The exact value of your made hand can generally be set aside on the flop. On the turn and river you will size your bets in different ways according to your exact hand strength and opponent, but the flop should remain standard. Using the same example at the .50/1 game above, a flop bet for value should be slightly larger than your c-bet with nothing. You don’t want to force folds, but you also want to extract value from your valuable hands.
$7 or $8 was a good figure for c-betting a $12 heads up pot, but $9-$11 is best for a made hand. $11 could be pushing it in some situations, but a lot of players will not see a major difference between $10 and $11 on the flop. $9 is the bet you would use if you really wanted a call and were not afraid of draws or losing the hand. $10 or $11 bets in this spot will ensure that your opponents are paying the maximum price for their draws. If you bet $9 on the flop, you will have the opportunity to more than compensate for that missing $1 or $2 on the turn and river. Suck players in when you are extremely confident with smaller bets and punish players that can realistically catch up with larger bets.