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One of the easiest ways to gauge the strength of your opponents is by the size of their bets. WSOP bracelet holder Max Steinberg reveals why size is important
One thing that surprises me every summer at the WSOP is the countless, blatant bet sizing tells I observe from not just the amateur players, but the experienced pros. Bet sizing tells vary between each player, which is why I constantly observe the bet sizing of the table instead of getting caught up in trying to extract physical tells. While many players say physical tells are one of the most important aspects of live poker, I think bet sizing tells are even more important. While there isn’t a one-size fits all trick to bet sizing tells, there are a few things I’ve observed that make reading bet sizing easier.
One thing I see constantly is players capping their range by betting too small. Their bet size is too small to rep a huge hand. It seems ridiculous to say, because one would think by now that players are too self-aware to make this mistake. But I’m absolutely shocked at how much it holds true, especially on early streets where players aren’t as calculating about the size of their bet.
Along the same lines, I see a lot of players make their bet sizing too large on early streets to be bluffing, especially from a player who isn’t savvy enough to do this as a bluff.
Hand 1: Too small to be strong
Here’s a hand that illustrates when a player bets too small to have a strong hand. It happened in a hand against a young pro who travels the circuit and it was on Day 2 of the $3,000 NL Mixed-Max event last summer (an event where I placed second).
Young Pro Early Position (70,000)
Max Button (100,000)
The young pro raises to 3,600, I call with 7♠-6♠ on the button. Everyone else folds.
The young pro puts out a c-bet of 4k. This, like many tournament players today, is his consistent medium-small c-bet sizing regardless of the board. I call with my gutshot getting good odds.
The young pro bets 7,500, I raise to 24,000, he thinks for a minute, sighs, and folds.
The young pro’s small bet sizing on the turn is a huge mistake. He bets well under half-pot, which doesn’t protect him against the several draws on the board. If he had a hand like a set or a strong Ace, he would feel the urge to bet bigger, especially this late in the tournament where he doesn’t mind taking down a small pot. This spot is an easy raise for me, and although my opponent is probably aware that he looks weak, I think he will give me credit for a strong hand since it’s so rare to see anyone bluff raise the turn on such a wet board.
I make a large raise because it makes my opponent’s only option with a marginal hand here to shove or fold, and he doesn’t want to risk his stack at this point in the tournament in this spot. The bluff works flawlessly.
Hand 1: Bigger means better
This hand that I played on Day 5 of the WSOP Main Event last summer illustrates another way players use transparent bet-sizing.
My opponent, an older American player, seemed knowledgeable but wasn’t an expert by any means.
Older American (1,300,000)
Max S. (1,750,000)
The older American raises to 40,000 on the hijack, I call with K♦-T♣ on the button. This is a little loose, but I like to play speculative hands in position to small raises. Everyone else folds.
He bets 80,000. I already have enough information to know my opponent is never bluffing. He bet way too large, and a player like this does not think deeply enough to bet this big on an early street as a bluff. I have a pretty good draw – a gutshot and the fourth nut flush draw – but I think I can safely fold here. I’m not exactly sure what he has, but his range is clearly very strong and could have me crippled.
I ended up calling, feeling careless with my large stack, and lost a large pot when I hit my gutshot on the turn, and a decent flush on the river to his Aces with the A♣. It killed my momentum and I got eliminated later that day, finishing outside the top 100 when I was dreaming about the final table.
Sometimes, ignoring an obvious bet sizing tell can cost you. It’s tempting to sit down at a table in Las Vegas and get engrossed in trying to pick up live reads. I sometimes become obsessed with trying to pick up every detail. But I’ve found I play my best when I’m focusing on my opponent’s bet sizing, and letting the live reads come. So when you sit down at the WSOP this summer, try finding your own bet sizing tells with my examples as a guide, and tell me if it improves your game.
Max Steinberg is a poker pro and WSOP bracelet winner. He currently resides in Las Vegas where he grinds high-stakes cash games. For more winning strategy subscribe to PokerPlayer on Apple or Android devices now for just £12.99.