AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 08.02.2021 · last updated 08.02.2021

Bet sizing is one of those aspects of online poker that we’re obviously fully aware of, and to some extent think about, yet it doesn’t go any further than that. We like to believe that we have a good idea about betting generally (we’ll typically bet hundreds of times in a single session), so see no point in ‘wasting’ time on the topic away from the tables. What’s so complicated, anyway? Surely, if we have a strong hand against a lone opponent, for example, then it’s a no-brainer – we’ll throw in a chunk of chips.

If this is the kind of approach you have, then you’re going about the game in totally the wrong way. Nothing in online poker is so simplistic that it doesn’t require us to properly contemplate and invest time on. It’s clearly preferable to plan ahead in order to avoid arriving at incorrect decisions in the limited time we have at the table.

Pre-flop Bet Sizing

Let’s start at the beginning, and consider the very first bet we’ll make in a hand, namely pre-flop. Many players – especially those new to the game – simply get bet sizing wrong which, given such initial mistakes make the rest of the hand increasingly difficult to play, is a serious problem. Moreover, because online poker affords us the possibility of playing so many hands, we absolutely want to avoid needlessly repeating the same errors.

In poker, as in life, we should try to find balance, a happy medium, but this old adage seems to go ignored by inexperienced players who, too pre-occupied with the absolute values of their starting hands, tend to erroneously bet way more than they should, or not enough. If we notice opponents doing this, then it’s reasonable to assume that they’re either lacking in experience, or lacking in poker wisdom. If we do this ourselves, then it’s time to put in some pre-planning and aforethought regarding this part of the game…

Every bet should have a purpose – we should not put a single chip into the pot without first having formulated some kind of plan, however simple, and we need to have this as a mantra (along with all the others!), constantly running in the background. As far as pre-flop play goes, this would help us avoid automatically (or lazily, carelessly…) entering into hands that factors such as our cards and position, for example, strongly indicate we should steer clear of.

Goldilocks Poker

Assuming we have a good hand, in an ideal world we want our bet to price out those players who could have any kind of holding and who are hoping to see the Flop for peanuts, while at the same time not scaring away someone who’s tempted to get involved with a decent hand, and whose chips we would like to see added to our stack. Betting too lightly would invite everyone to come along for the ride, which is bad news as we’d be in the dark, with too many variables (unfavourable possibilities) – indeed this situation is the complete opposite of what we want. Betting too big, on the other hand, might very well achieve one of our objectives in forcing out the bargain basement gang, but it would most likely scare off our intended target, too, because we’d be telegraphing the strength of our starting hand. ‘Isolating’ is one thing, reducing the field to just ourselves, thus wasting the earning potential of a strong hand, is quite another!

So, we need to find a bet size that best suits and, as a starting point, a reasonable ‘standard’ raise pre-flop is three times the Big Blind, with an additional BB’s worth for each of any limpers who have expressed (even this modest) interest in joining the fun.

Here’s how it would pan out in a cash game with blinds of $0.10/$0.20, for example. Our standard raise here would be to $0.60 (3 x $0.20), but if two players had already limped in, then we should raise to $1 (being 3 x $0.20 + 2 x $0.20 to cover the limpers).

Note that while this is conventionally accepted as standard, it’s not written in stone. In fact, it’s not uncommon in tournaments to adjust this from 3x to 2.5x, the point being that it tends to achieve the same objective but with fewer chips. This might seem unimportant, but as a tournament progresses and the blinds increase, so does the fluid value of chips.

Finally, poker isn’t an exact science and, as such, requires a level of flexibility and adaptability if we’re going to be able to get the better of our opponents. Sometimes various factors will combine to render 2.5x or 3x BB bets too little to get the job done, in which case we need to adjust accordingly. As players come and go and other aspects of the game change, we might again need to change tack. With experience, doing so gets easier, as we more naturally recognise which factors (and their potential implications) to consider.

Bet sizing is a key part of the game, and while it’s not always going to be automatic, knowing what not to do, and what we’re aiming to achieve, is already going to make a significant difference.

Have fun!

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