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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Three Bet-Sizing Tells

Miller Offers Up Some Things To Look Out For At The Table

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Ed MillerBet-sizing tells are one of the core tools of the live no-limit player. Players leak so much information in the amounts they choose to bet that it’s no overstatement to say that mastering bet-sizing tells may be the most important live small stakes no-limit skill.
Here are three hands where bet-sizing tells can influence you to make better decisions. All of these hands are played at $2-$5 with $1,000 stacks.

Hand 1

In the first hand, a player limps, then an active player raises to $25. The cutoff calls, and you call on the button with 8Diamond Suit 6Heart Suit. The blinds fold, and the limper calls. There are four players to the flop, and $107 in the pot.

The flop comes JClub Suit 8Club Suit 4Diamond Suit. The limper checks, as does the preflop raiser. The next player bets $35.

This flop is loosely connected and features a possible club flush draw. A typical player with a strong hand like A-J or K-J would feel a specific way about the situation. After the preflop raiser checks, they would typically assume they likely held the best hand. But the board has some straight and flush draw possibilities, and with three opponents, the player would want to bet solidly to protect their hand.

So if the flop bettor held one of these strong hands, I would expect a bet shaded to the bigger size—at least $50 and maybe $60 or $70.

The $35 bet is more likely to be a hand like J-9 or 9-9 or an eight or a draw than one of the stronger hands.

You just have middle pair, and there’s a good chance you’re behind, but I would call. You could possibly raise immediately to challenge the bettor, but against many opponents, it’s unnecessary. Calling lets you see how the action develops behind you without committing too much to the pot. If the big blind check-raises, you can get away cheaply. If, say, one of the other two players calls, you then get to see the turn action before you have to commit to something.

Some cautious players I know would fold in this situation, but I think the bet-sizing tell along with the cheap price makes calling better.

Hand 2

Two players limp, and you raise to $25 from two off the button with KDiamond Suit QSpade Suit. The big blind calls, as does one of the limpers.

The flop comes KClub Suit 8Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit. Your opponents check, and you bet $60 into the $82 pot. The big blind calls, and the other player folds. The turn is the 8Heart Suit. Your opponent bets $80 into the $202 pot. You call. The river is the 5Spade Suit, making a final board of KClub Suit 8Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit 5Spade Suit. Your opponent bets $250 into the $362 pot.

The small turn bet could be one of two things. First, it could be an eight. Second, it could be a player with a weak hand like K-10 or a draw looking to freeze the betting for a cheap card.

For some players, the small bet would be significantly more likely to be one of the weaker hands than the eight (perhaps because you’d expect the player to try a check-raise with trips). For other players, the small bet could be more likely to be trips because they’d play the weaker hands more passively. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t have a strong read which way this opponent leans, so you decide to call the turn.

The sizing of the river bet inclines me to believe that this player has trips, and I would fold. On the turn, the player bet $80 into $202, or less than half the pot. Also the bet is less than $100, which is something of a magic number in these games—bets bigger than $100 tend to be a bit more serious in general than those less than $100. So this turn bet I’d characterize as small.

On the river, however, the player bets more than two-thirds of the pot and way, way more than the $100 threshold. This is a large bet in this context.

In general, the betting pattern of small bet leading into a large bet is a strong pattern. Players at this level who bet small, and then when called, decide to bet substantially larger on the next street tend to have hands they’re trying to get real value with. Holding K-Q as a preflop raiser, you have exactly the sort of hand your opponent would expect you to have. If he’s going to value, he probably has you beat. So I would fold.

It’s the small-to-big pattern that really seals this fold for me. The flop contained a lot of draws that bricked out. It’s not an unreasonable board for an opponent to try to bluff on. So I wouldn’t automatically fold K-Q to any old betting from this opponent. But this particular pattern suggests strength often enough that I don’t think it’s worth calling getting less than 3-to-1.

Hand 3

A player open-raises to $20 from five off the button. A player calls. You call with QClub Suit JClub Suit in the cutoff. The button calls. The blinds both fold. There’s $107 in the pot and four players.

The flop comes JHeart Suit 10Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit. The preflop raiser bets $60, and the next player folds. You call. The button folds. There’s $207 in the pot.

The turn is the 7Diamond Suit. Your opponent bets $100, and you call.

The river is the 3Club Suit. Your opponent checks.

The bet-sizing in this hand tells a fairly clear story about what the preflop raiser is likely to have. Betting $60 into $100 on the flop isn’t a massive bet, but it’s a very solid bet into three players. Hands like K-J, A-J, K-K, and so forth are all in play. Of course, the preflop raiser could also hold K-Q, A-K, a flush draw, or some other hand as well. The $60 bet isn’t definitive one way or the other.

The $100 bet on the turn, however, is decidedly small, given the situation. It suggests the preflop raiser is now playing defensively. Since the flush came in, there’s a good chance he’s got one pair. He doesn’t want to give a free card to a hand like a lone diamond or a straight draw, but he also doesn’t want to commit a ton of money to the pot in case you already have a flush.

The check after the river bricks is further confirmation of this hypothesis. It would be a relative longshot for this player to first have a flush (already uncommon), and then to play it with this strong-to-weak betting pattern.

There’s a good chance your opponent is very concerned you have a flush. There’s also a good chance your hand is no good. It’s worth considering a bluff here—and if you bluff, you really should make a strong play at the pot. A $400 bet into this $427 pot should have an excellent chance to win.

Final Thoughts

Bet-sizing tells can give you a great picture of what your opponents are doing in no-limit hands. If you learn to leverage this information, you can become one of the best players at your level. ♠

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.