Poker is a game of incomplete information. The best players take the little information that is available to them and accurately decipher what probable hands that their opponent holds. There are several techniques that can help you to do this well and one of the most telling ones is through bet sizing. Normally, the bigger the bet the stronger the hand. Now, this is not always the case, especially in the rare instances that you find players who can overbet bluff, but in general, especially on wetish types of boards, players want to “protect” their big hands so that they do not get sucked out on.
In an earlier column I wrote that minish types of raises on wet boards usually represent a top pair type of hand since if your opponent had a bigger hand, like two pair or a set, they would raise more so that you could not catch up. Even though this approach is fundamentally flawed it is one of the most common patterns I see in live poker. Taking this a step further if we are unsure as to the strength of our opponent’s hand we can actually get even more information by what he follows up with in his bet sizing on the turn. A lot of the time we will not be able to exactly pinpoint his strength by one action but combines with two actions we can usually paint an accurate picture of his range.
I’ll give an example of a hand that I played at $10-20 no limit at the Commerce casino a few years ago. I was under the gun and had a weak amateur player directly to my left. We had effective stacks of $4000. I picked up two red queens and raised it to $80. The weak player called, as did another guy on the button. The flop came out pretty well for me J♦ 7♣ 2♥ and I led out for a $160 continuation bet. The weakish player immediately made it $400. The button then folded and the action was back to me. Unfortunately, because the board was dry and his raise size was neither small nor big I did not know at this point what he had. If the board was say J♣ 7♦ 5♣ and he had bumped it up to $350 I would lean towards him having a hand like KJ or AJ. But his action left me in the dark. I decided to call and see what he did on the next street. The turn brought the 4♣, I checked and now he bet a $300. Not only was his sizing relatively small compared to the pot but it was actually less of an amount than the flop raise. Anytime you see a player follow up with a bet that is equal to or less than his previous street’s raise than his hand is usually not that strong. I squarely put him on AJ and decided to make an extremely thin check raise on the turn. I made it $650 and he called. The river was the 5♥ and I bet $800. My opponent did not take too long and called tabling AJ.
Some of the other players at the table including the pros were stunned at how the hand played out. It is very rare that you would ever see anyone check raise the turn after being raised on the flop with a lone over pair in a deep stack cash game. However, I knew through this player’s betting patterns exactly his strength. Instead of checking behind in position on the turn and having to face a big bet on the river, this type of player actually named his price on the turn in an attempt to get a free showdown. It is actually not that bad a play if you are up against non perceptive opponents. I go into this concept in more detail in episode “Turn Sizing” of my podcast Deuce Plays Premium. Be careful though, even though when your opponent follows up with a small turn bet he is normally not that strong, this does not mean that he will necessarily fold and I would be hesitate to try to bluff him.