Pot-Sized Bets in Poker
Learn how to use poker pot-sized bets in Texas Hold'em games, and how to avoid commiting common mistakes when placing pot size bets.
If you've seen poker on TV or in movies you may have heard people announce "I bet the pot" and thought "I want to be just as cool as those people"! Unfortunately, that announcement only works in pot-limit games such as Omaha, to make a pot size bet in No-Limit Hold'em you'll have to do the math and count it out yourself.
What is a Pot-Sized Bet
A pot bet (i.e., pot-sized bet, pot size bet) is a type of bet that is equal to the current size of the pot. When there have been no bets on that street, it's easy to figure out the size as you count up the amount of money that's in the pot and bet that amount. However, if there have been any previous bets on the same street then you need to match the original bet before calculating the size of the pot.
For example, the pot is $10, and someone bets $5, if you want to make a pot size raise it is equal to the initial $10 plus the $5 your opponent bet plus the $5 you would have to call. This means you can raise up to $25. An easy way to remember is you can bet three times the last bet plus whatever was previously in the pot.
Being able to work out pot-sized bets and raises is important if you're playing pot-limit games like Omaha or Pot-Limit Hold'em
Sizing a Pot Bet
Every bet that you make when playing poker can be considered in relation to the size of the pot. You've got your obvious pot size bet which is a bet exactly equal to the size of the pot but there are also other sizes such as ½, ⅓, ¼, ⅔, even 2x or 3x the pot!
A good player will use a variety of different types of bets based on the current situation they're facing. Things like the board texture, your position, your range, your opponent's range, and other factors should influence the bet size you choose to use.
Pot Bet Plays
Each bet size you can make will accomplish different things and you'll find that your opponent's continuing range will change a lot depending on the size you use. Let's look at some common spots and what sizings you can use.
Pot Size Bets for Dry Boards
On dry boards, it's very often that the preflop aggressor has a range advantage (meaning that the hands in their range generally have more equity on a certain board than their opponent's). In these scenarios, you'll find that a lot of players will be their whole range as the preflop aggressor.
It's common to see people using a small sizing such as ⅓ or even as small as ¼ with the reasoning being that it's tough for your opponent to continue optimally on these dry boards so betting small accomplishes the same as a big bet. However, mixing in bigger bet sizes is a good idea some of the time as we want to build a pot with our strongest hands, something that is hard to do by betting small.
Betting 1x Pot Bet on Wet Boards
In comparison to the dry boards we just talked about, the more connected or 'wet' a board is, the less frequently we want to be c-betting. This is because our opponent has more hands they can continue with against a bet, and the reasons for betting small no longer apply.
Instead, we want to be betting less frequently but for a bigger sizing. You will see players bet any size between ⅔ and a full pot size bet on boards like these. Betting this size puts pressure on your opponent's marginal hands which will struggle to stand up to multiple large bets.
Steal the Blinds with a Pot-Sized Bet
When sizing preflop, most players don't think about their raise sizes in relation to the size of the pot. A pot size raise preflop is equal to 3.5bb unless you're in the SB in which case it's 3bb. It's reasonable to raise the size of the pot when you're in the SB as you're trying to take the blinds and disincentivize your opponent from calling.
However, in most other positions a pot size raise is a little big and is just inefficient as we can often accomplish the same with smaller sizes. You'll often see players raise between 2-3bb from most positions which on average is around 0.5x the pot.
Go After Limping Players With a Pot Size Bet
If people have limped in before you, it's a good idea to raise a large amount to charge them when you have a hand worth raising. A pot size bet is a good size to use in this case as it's large enough that we get value from our good hands but not so large that we price ourselves out of getting called.
Similarly to when we're 3-betting, we'll want to go slightly larger when we're out of position so making it a pot size bet when you're in position and a couple of big blinds larger when you're out of position is a reasonably effective poker playing strategy.
Respond To C-Bets With a Pot Size Bet
As we've talked about in previous segments, there are some boards that our opponent will be c-betting very aggressively. When we're up against these aggressive c-bettors, it's important that we adequately defend against them using calls and raises.
Making a pot size raise against a c-bet may be a little big (I would advocate a slightly smaller ⅔ sizing), but the theory of attacking the c-bets of someone who is likely betting their whole range is a sound one. By raising someone who often c-bets, we now put the pressure on them to try and defend enough hands against our raise. You'll find that a lot of players will struggle to defend enough hands, making raising a very profitable play.
Using Small Sizings to Counter 3bets
One thing to know when we're looking at preflop sizing is that each bet should have its own size range. If we look at preflop raises most people will raise somewhere between 2-3bb, 3bets will go between 3-5x the raise depending on if the 3bettor is in or out of position, and 4bets should be a much smaller size than 3bets.
This is because when we have such a narrow range, we get the same responses from our opponent if we make it 2.5x or if we make it 4x. The benefit to making it smaller is that we save money when we're bluffing, without missing out on value with our strongest hands.
Mistakes in Sizing Your Bets
Sizing your bets properly isn't an easy task as there are so many to choose from - it's easy to make a mistake.
Small Bets When Out of Position
When you're sizing your preflop raises, you'll find a lot of people don't differentiate whether they're in or out of position and will raise the same amount no matter what. This is a mistake as when we're out of position we want to disincentivize people from calling because of our positional disadvantage.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to 3-betting is to size it around 3x the initial raise when you're in position and around 4-5x the initial raise when you're out of position. If you're making the initial raise then you should generally stick to your standard opening size as you're unsure whether you're going to be out of position or not - unless you're in the SB in which case you should go slightly bigger than your normal raise. For example, if you usually go 2.5x from most positions go to 3x in the SB.
Consistently Making Pot Bets
Another mistake players make is to consistently use pot size bets and not mix it up at all. Just betting one size really limits what you can accomplish and you should be using multiple sizings based on what your hand is, your range, your opponent's range, etc.
If you just use a pot size bet then it's hard to do things such as value bet thinly with a hand like second or third pair, as most players will fold worse hands like that to such a big bet and only call with better hands.
Using Pot Bets for Any Hand
Similar to consistently making pot size bets, betting the wrong hands for the size of the pot is also a mistake you can make. When you're deciding when/what size to bet you need to think about what you're trying to accomplish with your bet - usually am I getting many better hands to fold or many worse hands to call. If you bet the size of the pot for some marginal value bets then you end up pricing yourself out of a call as all the hands that may have called a smaller bet will now be folding.
There may also be a spot where you want to bluff and your opponent has either a hand they're always calling or a hand they're always folding. In these scenarios betting the size of the pot is inefficient as we know that they'll fold hands like missed draws no matter what the sizing, and if they do have their value hands we save money by betting smaller.
Making Pot-Sized Bets Against 3bets
Something I see a lot at the tables is inefficient 4bet sizings. It's very common to see people 4bet 3x the 3bet sizing, or go even bigger, and I think this is a mistake. When we're 4betting, we're going to be 4betting a narrow range of hands usually made up of very strong hands and some bluffs. Against this range, players are going to continue with either a call or a 5bet when they have a good hand or fold if they have a bad hand.
By making such a large raise preflop, we're costing ourselves more money the times we're bluffing. We're also not getting any more value from our strong hands as players are likely to go all-in with their strong hands regardless of our size and even if they call it's not hard to get in the rest of the money in a 4bet pot.
Instead of treating 4bets like 3bets and using a 3-4x sizing, I recommend using a 2.2-2.5x sizing when in position and 2.5-2.8x sizing when out of position.
Pot Bets in Poker: FAQ
Answers to the most common questions regarding pot size bets in poker.
What is a pot size bet?
A pot size bet is a bet that is exactly equal to the size of the pot. There are other bet sizes that you can make that you can relate to the size of the pot such as ⅓, ½, ⅔, etc. but when most people talk about a pot bet they mean one that is equal to the current pot size.
When is the right time to pot bet?
The best time to make a pot size bet is when the board is dynamic and you have a hand that falls within your betting range (either value or bluff). There are also some situations where you have such a significant range advantage that you can bet a large size with your entire range.
Is over-betting appropriate when defending the blinds?
When we want to defend the blinds by 3betting a good sizing is to go at least 4x the amount our opponent raised. Most of the time this will be considered an overbet if you look at the size of the pot.
Will a pot bet help you steal the blinds?
Yes, it can. The larger we raise preflop, the less often people will defend their blinds against it. For example, if we were to go all-in for 100bb, people are going to fold almost every hand in the blinds! Preflop sizing is a matter of efficiency so while making a pot size raise will win us the blinds more often, it may not be the most efficient size.
Is a 1x pot bet better than an overbet?
While pot size bets and overbets are similar in that they're both very big bet sizes, you'll find that in practice people play very differently against them. Players seem to fold a lot to overbets whereas they're happier to call a pot size bet - we should be seeing how players in our game react to these sizes and change our ranges accordingly.
Using a variety of bet sizings, including pot size bets, will help improve your poker game. The challenge is learning to use them at the right time!