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Pop Quiz Answered - Theories on Bet Sizing

I have to admit, I did not get the amount of comments I was hoping for, but such is a blog, so I'll do what I can with what I have. Principally, the more I think about bet sizing, the more I've come to the conclusion that round numbers tend to tempt players into calling, and odd numbers (odd tend to elicit folds. While those two conclusions seem to be exact opposites, the interplay between the two is a bit more complicated, and seem to turn on whether play is online or live, tournament or cash.

Looking at the pop quiz, we start with what I consider my worst-crafted question: Playing an online poker tournament, with a pot of 120, BB vs. SB, if the flop is Ace-high, what is the best bet to elicit a fold - 80, 100, 120 or 140? Why is this the worst crafted? Because unlike the other questions, the focus seems to be more on whether a fold-inducing bet should be bigger or smaller than the pot. The comments, however, seem to lean mostly toward 100, and I'm inclined to agree. Hoyazo said 120 or 100, CK said 80 or 100, and Surflexus said 100. So why is it that 100, a "round" number if ever there was one, is actually an odd number in this scenario. The answer is the pot size. With a 120 pot, a 120 or 80 bet makes sense. Its something that can be readily quantified by an average player. 100, on the other hand, does not lend itself to a thoughtless pot odds analysis, and I guarantee you that most pot odd analysis is done subconsciously. As poker players and, for the most part, intelligent people, we understand how bets interact with pot sizes without affirmatively processing the math. We know the "feel" of an 80 or 120 bet into a 120 pot, and so we know how to act accordingly. But a 100 bet, well, that's just peculiar. So, our brains subconsciously tell us that something is wrong and we fold. Or so my theory goes.

The second question addresses the flip side: what bet sizes induce a call? The specific question is, if you flop trips and your opponent leads out with a 500 bet, how much would you bet if you are trying to induce a call - 500 more, 750 more, 1000 more, or 1500 more. Once again, the question suffers for the sheer breadth of the subject. The majority of the comments, however, chose 1000 more, for reasons that are similar but slightly different than the reasoning I am about to set forth. But first, lets examine the other choices. Surflexus liked the 1500 raise, but because it might look like a bluff because its such a large raise. In my opinion, the bet is too high and would push out all but the strongest opposing hands. Also, the 1500 bet is an intimidating one. You've broken the magical number of 1000 or even 1200, numbers that to me just look a lot more "round" and therefore comfortable. In fact, I beseech you to leave a comment, because maybe this is all just me. So I ask, just looking at the digits, doesn't 1500 look MUCH more intimidating than 1200, even though there is only a mere 300 difference? For the same reason, the 750 raise was ignored by all commentors. That 750 number is just too awkward, and your opponent is going to see that number and think that something is fishy. CK and Hoyazo thought the 1000 raise was better to induce a call because it was a standard 3x raise that would not raise suspicion, and I wholeheartedly agree. I add, also, that psychologically, the number 1000 is so round and, for lack of a better word, comforting, that it would be easy to call 1000 with a number of dominated hands.

The third question begins to delve into the idea of bet-sizing in live cash games. I believe there is a different psychology at work here, likely because you do not get to see "CALL 1000" written out on your monitor. Instead, you have to react to the bets called out, so the comfort of all those zeros (and I sincerely believe that there is a comfort to 1000 because it is so round and familiar) is nil. So, with that in mind, the question turns to how you can control people's actions through bet sizing live. In my estimation, the most effective use of bet sizing live is when you are trying to force a fold. In fact, I have started a bunch of hands with the sole intention of taking down a pot with weird-sized bets, and it almost always works.

In the third question, I asked, would you call or fold from the BB with AJs and a flop of A23, if the bettor preflop bet $13, got three callers (including you), and then (after you check) the bettor bets out $33 into the $52 pot. Hoyazo folds in a heartbeat, CK hates AJ so lets assume she'll fold, Surf check-raises for info, and msbuss folds but questions whether a check-raise is in order. I'm inclined to agree with Surf and msbuss' question regarding a check-raise, but realistically, I'm likely folding after a lot of hemming and hawing. Why? Those are some wacky-ass bets, and I don't know what the hell they mean. $13 preflop? Why not $12 or $15, both of which are more common in most 1/2 NL games? $33 post flop? Where the hell did that number come from? How about a pot-sized bet or even $25 or $30? The key is, those weird bets can be very disorientating. I know, because they often work like a charm. Players will often call the preflop bet thinking that the weird bet is full of crap and then fold to another weird bet on the flop because they realize that their initial thought on the preflop raise do not comport with the post-flop bet; this all in addition to the fact that the numbers are too awkward to analyze with any confidence. I commend Surf on his check-raise response, but I also have to wonder how big you check-raise to get the right info. You could just bet 3x his bet, or $99, or round that up to $100, but at 1/2 NL, a $100 bet is often 1/3 of your stack or more. That's some expensive information.

In the final question, I asked what you do if you call a raise to a mere $7 out of position with pocket 6s, check the KJ5 flop, and then face a $13 bet from the original raiser. Hoy folds, CK thinks its a fold/raise situation, and Surf folds most of the time. I'm inclined to fold here, since, like Hoy, I'm hoping to flop the set out of position. But the question remains, do those weird sized bets induce the call preflop ("It's only $5") and a fold post-flop ("It's only $13, but WTF does he have that he'd bet $13?!?"). In my estimation, its hard to place your opponent on a hand. He could just as easily have ATs or 89s and just bet his position postflop after his preflop pot-builder with his drawing hand. But, likewise, he could have KJ or AJ or AK or KQ or 77 or any number of hands that have you dominated. Compare this with a $12 or $15 raise preflop and a pot-sized bet post-flop, which can be easily analyzed as a strong hand, OR a $8 raise preflop and a pot-sized bet post-flop, which can be easily analyzed as a pot-builder/missed-flop-bluff. This question continued with a turn bet of $19 and a river of $27, two numbers that are not as high as they should be, traditionally, if you are trying to push a player out of a pot. Even so, I would argue that while they are smaller bets, they are as effective, if not moreso, than larger bets to push opponents out of pots. They also have the added benefit of saving you some money when your opponent has flopped a monster and is slowplaying (expect him to raise on the river, at which point, you know the jig is up and you can fold for cheaper than pot-sized bets the whole way).

Kaja asked one final question that I would like to address: "I have recently read and seen some big MTT players make x99 bets. Raise to 299, re-raise to 1599, etc. I think those are so confusing. How does that play into your psycho analysis?" Good question, Kaja, because it touches upon something I neglected to include in my original questions. We are all used to advertisements and price tags touting the $X.99 price. In fact, gas stations even list gasoline at a price that usually ends in 9/10th of a cent. They do this because the $4.99 looks a lot nicer and cheaper than $5. If you were just to take that knowledge, you would assume that these MTT players are trying to encourage calls by making their bets look smaller than they actually are. But I would argue the opposite.

We all are well aware of the 99 phenomenon, so when you see a bet of 899 instead of 900, arguably you are going to be MORE suspicious of the bet, and consequently, you are going to be more likely to fold. That 99 is a signal, subconsciously or otherwise, that your opponent is trying to "sell you" on their bet, and get you to buy. More generally, I was thinking about bets that are just under pot. When the pot is 1200, a bet of 1100 is a lot more scary than a pot-sized 1200 bet, because of the things we discussed earlier: (a) the subconscious pot odd calculations are thrown off, (b) the bet size is awkward and uncomfortable and (c) these two things get you to question the reason for the raise and in most instances people conclude that they bet below pot to try to induce a call -- similar to the $4.99 price.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, let me know, because these are all theories that I am still hammering out, and there is just too much community knowledge out there to be tapped. I thank the commentors for their input, as the three largest comments came from three of the most intelligent poker-thinkers I know, all of which have distinctly different styles and all of which are extremely successful. Thanks, guys.

And while I'm here, I might as well share, I won the I Had Outs tournament last night, with CK coming in 2nd (we actually did an equitable chop, heads up) and LJ taking third. I'm sure I'll be writing it up soon enough, but...

Until then, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 11:55 AM,


At 3:11 PM, Blogger Wlokos said...

This is a very interesting theory, something I hadn't really thought about before.

I may have to try and put this to use a bit, see how well I can get it to work.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger meanhappyguy said...

If you've played online against me over the last year or so, you've seen me doing the weird bet-sizing. For me, it works. There are a few different elements in play, but you've touched on many of them already.

The single most-important reason I type in my bet-sizes, as opposed to clicking the slider to the right a few BB's, is because typing in my own bet sizes forces me to pay attention to how much I'm betting. If I just raise 3x the BB, or have a set plan for an amount I raise, I can't play around with people as much as I'd like to. When raising X times the BB, whenever you DON'T raise a multiple of the BB, alarm bells go off for certain opponents. It makes some more willing to fold, and other more willing to call. Raising a zany number every time tends to get under some people's skin, and can't be seen as a pattern by the more astute players if you always raise zany amounts (regardless if you have the nuts, are on a semi-bluff, or just have air).

So, it is pretty much the same style as raising a set amount every time, but that set amount is a "weird" number. The zany betting allows me to mix other strategies into my game, without any real negatives that I've found yet.

Also, to add a piece to the x999 bet sizes, the amount of chips on the screen is much larger with a 1999 bet than a 2000 bet. There are only 2 chips on the table when you bet 2k, but when you bet 1999 there are 14 chips (did I count right?), which can sometimes have an opponent insta-fold what he perceives to be an all-in. Although it doesn't happen against more astute players, the gobs of chips, as well as the weird bet can have people finger the "fold" button right off the bat, instead of hovering over the "call" button.

But, the great part about poker is realizing that some people know this information, while others do not. Making a bet and leaving yourself with exactly 10,000 chips may look like you're leaving yourself the fold option--having a healthy 10,000 chips to fall back on. That may be how an aggressive player viewing a passive player reads the situation, but the passive player may just be a tiger waiting to strike...

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Mattyebs said...

Another psychological phenomenon...people who are 79 are seen as older than people who are 81...the mind focuses on the latter number.

Same works in cards...121 actually may seem smaller than 119...number of chips is also a especially some people hate breaking their bigger chips or even sacrificing them...there are times if a player goes green he must have the nuts...the opposite is true certain players fin color chips unlucky and play with them when they are unlikely to win...sorry I haven't commented in a while been busy with the law school and the comedy...we'll discuss soon


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