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Down Betting: Who To Target?

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Dec 29, 2021

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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

Gather around, my children, and listen to stories of the olden days. Back then, before the poker boom ignited by online poker, hole card cameras, and Chris Moneymaker (hallowed be thy name), a small opening raise preflop was 3x the big blind. Quite often, players would raise 4x, 5x, or even more!

And if you raised 3x and got called, your flop bet was usually 6x the big blind. Most bets, on every street, were about the size of the pot, and not infrequently more than the pot.

Eventually, we progressed. We learned that if you raised to 3x preflop, you could bet 4x on the flop, instead of 6×. We learned that if the player was going to fold for 6x, they would probably fold almost as often for 4×. Then we learned that if they would fold for 4x on the flop, they would probably still fold for 3.5x, or 3x, and that became more of the norm.

Then, some of the wisest amongst us finally realized we could bet even smaller, at least on some boards. If the board was very dry, and/or if the board was really strong for our range, we could bet even less than the amount of our preflop raise.

This is called Down Betting.

For example, let’s say I raise preflop to 5,000, and get one caller. If the flop is A-A-J, I can down bet to 3,000 on the flop. Unless my opponent has an ace, they are fairly likely to fold. Even if they have a jack, or K-K or Q-Q, this is not a flop they like to see. And they know if they call my down bet on the flop, they are likely to face a much larger turn bet. So why call this 3,000 bet, if they know they are going to fold for the next bet of 8,000?

You will see this kind of down betting fairly often. Anytime the board is really strong for the raiser’s range, a good player might down bet on the flop. This includes most paired boards, as well as most ace-high boards, and some others.

However, we are starting to see some players who down bet almost every board. The idea is the same. Even if the board is somewhat wet, and not especially strong for the raiser’s range, if the opponent is almost as likely to fold for a down bet, why not utilize this smaller sizing? There is a lot of merit to this strategy, and you definitely want to consider integrating it into your game.

However again, and this is important, I want to point out one significant drawback to down betting I have encountered. Strong opponents understand down betting, what it means (and doesn’t mean). But I’ve found that when playing against less sophisticated players, they will sometimes assume that a down bet is a sign of weakness. They will see the smaller bet, and think you are “scared” to bet the full amount they were expecting to see.

Let’s say I have raised preflop to 5,000. Most often, I will bet the flop for about 5,500, but I will down bet to 3,000 on boards such as A-A-J, 6-6-3, A-Q-7, and the like. These are boards that are especially strong for my range as the raiser, and especially weak for the caller.

And when I do this, it has nothing to do with whether or not that board has hit, or missed, my actual hand. I have seen many instances where a less knowledgeable player has taken my down bet as a sign of weakness. I down bet the A-A-J flop, and they decide to bluff with their 9-8 suited, or 4-4, or whatever. Of course, if I have an ace, this is great. But if I don’t have an ace, I now find myself in a tough spot. Unless I can “read their soul,” it is going to be tough to continue with any hand but J-J or A-x.

Keep in mind this note of caution when down betting against weaker players. If they are going to see it as a sign of weakness, you need to move away from the GTO play of always down betting these boards. Instead, against this opponent, you should down bet when you’re strong in order to induce bluffs, and choose a more standard bet size when weak, so as to still induce folds.

And don’t worry about falling into a pattern here. If they are so inexperienced that they think a down bet means weakness, they are not that likely to find this pattern. If they do eventually find your pattern, then it is time to adjust again. ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.