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Head Games: Cash Game Overbetting Dynamics

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Oct 16, 2013


The Pros: Daniel Marks, Gareth Chantler, and Jerry Fang

Craig Tapscott: Please share your thoughts on when you throw in some overbets to confuse or instigate a reaction from an opponent. Against what types of opponents and in which situations do you employ this tactic?

Daniel Marks: Overbets can be very useful against both weaker and better players. However, I think they are most effective against weaker players or players you have a strong read on. Weaker players tend to react very predictably to overbets; they start by giving you respect for the first one or two, but then quickly turn into stations once you’ve overbet a couple of times. Overbet-bluffing weaker players at the start of a match works pretty often because they will be transparent about what they have and will often make it clear if they have top pair or better. And they will not be very conscious of hand reading and will just be thinking: “weak-hand/big-bet equals I fold!” Once a weaker player has folded to a couple overbets, or has called and seen a bluff, it’s time to value bet. Value overbetting is also great against weaker players, because there are a lot of spots where they will fold anything but top pair or better, but will never fold these hands regardless of the size. For example, you hold two pair and a weaker player check/calls the flop and turn on a board of K-6-4-10-2, it’s likely that they will fold any pair but a pair of kings (or better) to a river bet, but will call with those top-pair plus hands regardless of the size. You aren’t really narrowing their calling range by making your bet larger, only extracting more value. Overbets are less straightforward against better players (as most plays are), and usually come down to leveling. Even if you have no faith in your ability to out-level an opponent, I still think it’s useful to throw in overbets at somewhat random times in order to throw them off. I think that any play that gets your opponent scratching their heads or confuses them in some way is a good thing.

Gareth Chantler: If you take a free flop from the big blind versus a limper, and flop a big hand, this can often be a great time to overbet. Let’s think of the example of under-the-gun (UTG) limping and you checking a hand like 7-4 offsuit on a flop of 6-5-3. First, you want to build a big pot. So betting out is pretty mandatory unless you know the player is a betting station postflop. But since they limped, they are likely a passive recreational player, so you need to build the pot for them. If they have any piece, they are not going to fold, even if you start by betting two-times pot. You can always decrease your sizing relative to the pot later, but getting an overbet in on the flop is going to do wonders for the size of your river bet. On a flop like this, an UTG limper’s range is going to include a lot of pocket pairs that have made sets, straight draws, or are overpairs. But again, you can’t always rely on them to play fast; they are usually too tricky for their own good. River overbets are a similarly good situation to exploit recreational players who can’t fold absolutely strong hands. Let’s say you backdoor a flush with ASpade Suit 2Spade Suit on a board that runs out QSpade Suit 9Club Suit 5Club Suit 10Spade Suit KSpade Suit. A recreational player is going to have a hard time folding two pair to a bet that’s twice the size of the pot, never mind a straight. But they are also going to be loathe to put large amounts of money in themselves. Also, as hand readers, they don’t give backdoor flushes nearly enough credit. Finally, if they called a bet on this flop texture, by the river they have a large amount of J-x hands in their range. An overbet of twice the pot only needs to be called one-third of the time that a two-thirds pot bet does to be equally profitable, so it’s worth considering the various calling frequencies. 

Jerry Fang: Some important things to think about when overbetting are your opponent’s range, what your opponent thinks your range is (if applicable), and the metagame between you and your opponent. Your opponents range: Usually your opponents will not call an overbet, especially in live games, unless their hand strength is very high. An exception is in smallish pots, where you bet $85 into $50 for example. So when you overbet, which for a good player is almost always on the river, you want to be sure that your opponent’s range is very strong. So, for example, if you know your opponent always fast-plays draws, and you have 9Club Suit 9Spade Suit on QDiamond Suit 9Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit, and the turn fills your boat with a eight, and river comes 2Diamond Suit, you should not overbet river if the hand went bet/call, bet/call. If your opponent is ultra-aggressive and usually fast plays draws, when he gets to the river he’ll more likely have a hand like K-Q that was just trying to get to showdown. But if he is a station who won’t give up draws, then this is a great spot to overbet. Overbetting when your hand is extremely polarized: On board textures like Ax 9Diamond Suit 8Diamond Suit 4x 2x where the flop brought multiple draws but none complete by river, against a super-calling station or just a non-believer, you can go ahead and bomb the river for about 1.5-times pot-size for value with a hand like A-J. The reason is because your range is super polarized. It is very likely you have a busted draw or an ace, other middling hands would just check behind because they have showdown value. So in this spot it is great to bomb the river hoping this type of calling station will either call you because “they have top pair and can’t fold,” or “you have to have a busted draw because all draws missed.”

Craig Tapscott: How do you exploit players who tend to overbet too much?

Daniel Marks: Exploiting players who overbet a lot isn’t very different than exploiting a player who doesn’t overbet at all. It all comes down to the ranges they are using to overbet. If their overbetting range is exploitable (too many bluffs or too many value hands), then you can take advantage accordingly. Otherwise, there isn’t anything inherently exploitable about overbets. Luckily, most players tend to have an unbalanced overbetting range and/or some predictable thought process that goes into their overbets. For instance, a decent/not-too-good player who overbets a lot might overbet a huge amount as a bluff when it’s obvious you don’t have a strong hand. If your opponent expects you to call huge bets when you look weak, then it would obviously make sense for him to value bet in such a spot. Weaker players are far more homogenous in their use of overbets and it’s usually safe to work under the assumption that an overbet from a weaker player is strong, unless proven otherwise.

Gareth Chantler: Not “capping” your range postflop is the best way. Usually you do this by cutting out your raising range on prior streets, so you can arrive on the river with the strongest hands. Say you take a flop from the big blind and it comes J-9-5 or J-10-5. If you remember your opponent is capable of overbetting the river, it is probably because you got to the river in this spot with a hand like A-J and had to fold. So check-raising hands that are drawing to the river nuts is going to be a big mistake; you need to protect your check/calling range. You should be protecting your check/calling range generally with strong hands, but against a capable overbetter this is even more true. When you snap off the overbet with the nuts, or if there is money behind and raise an overbet, then that does a considerable service to discouraging future overbets. A savvy opponent is going to look for the times the board comes J-9-5-4-10 and say “well my opponent probably doesn’t have K-Q in their check/call range for both the flop and the turn.” If they have a hand like 10-8 that blocks 10-10 and loses to J-x, they might decide to turn it into a bluff since you can’t have the strongest hands, but they definitely can, as they would have bet flop and turn with K-Q themselves. If you stay disciplined by check-calling with a variety of hands, as opposed to raising strong hands like 9-9 and semi-bluffs like K-Q, while check/calling medium strength hands like J-x, you can avoid being exploited in this way. 

Jerry Fang: Players who overbet often are very rare in live games. That being said, I believe that most overbets are spazz plays made by non-thinking players. When they overbet it is because their hand isn’t very strong, and in their head they’re thinking, “I have to bet huge to scare my opponent away.” The way to beat them is obviously to snap call with decent made hands. I played a hand against a European aggro-donk in my local $5-$5 game. He had been playing quite loose-aggressive (LAG), three-betting quite a bit more than your regular live player’s range of jacks plus and A-K, fighting for pots and bluffing. I could tell that he had only a very basic understanding of the game. So I opened my standard 4 big blinds on button with 8Spade Suit 5Spade Suit, he three-bet to 12 big blinds from the big blind (BB). We were about 100 BBs deep, so I elected to call, knowing for sure I could outplay him postflop. The flop fell J-8-2 rainbow, and he decides to just come out and jam the flop. He is obviously not repping any hands here, a monster would either bet smallish or check, middling hands would continuation bet like 25 percent of the time and check 75 percent, because he would be either way ahead or way behind. So the only hand he could have is draws, 10-9, or overs like A-K. What I did was tank for one minute and called him and he bricked turn and river. After the hand he asks me how I could possibly call the flop? ♠