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Know the Numbers

When to raise… and how much!

By Jim Feist

By understanding the correct size bets, you will be able to maximize your wins and minimize losses. You will also be able to give opponents bad odds to call when they have drawing hands.

It’s the stretch run in the NFL season here in Las Vegas. The rules have changed so much in pro football the last ten years to favor the offense. As a consequence coaches have adjusted, too, to try and gain an edge. Chip Kelly succeeded with the no-huddle in college and now is having success at the NFL level. Passing records are being shattered regularly. Bill Belichick started to go for it on fourth down far more often than coaches used to, and now other teams have followed suit. Knowing that the rules have been tweaked to favor the offense, Belichick is playing the percentages by trying to cash in on fourth down more than used to be done by most coaches.

Simply put, he is playing the math: carefully calculating the odds and making the best judgment based on the numbers, situation and the strength and weaknesses of you and your opponent. The same formula applies in poker, assessing your hand against your opponents in trying to decide what to do.

One of the conflicts that often enter the mind of every poker player is: “How much to bet or raise?” Was that too much to get a call? Did I not wager enough to make everyone fold like I wanted? This is where correct calculations come into play.

In a no limit hold ‘em tournament, a standard raise is generally three to four times the big blind and there’s a simple way to calculate how much to raise in all situations. Before the flop, if you want to raise with no callers before you, raise four times the big blind. For example, if the blinds are 100, you would raise it to 400.

If there are limpers (a player who has to bet the minimum to even stay in the hand)ahead of you, add those calls to the amount you raise. If the blinds are 100 and there are two callers ahead of you, it would be 400 +100 + 100 for a raise of 600, for instance. The standard raise is four times the big blind. If there was one caller, it would be 1,000.

It’s important to keep your raises around those amounts with all this in mind. You don’t want to raise too little with a big hand like a pair of kings and have a weak hand call you and hit two pair on the flop or have too many callers. If you are raising with a weak hand, you want to raise enough to make others think you have a much stronger hand. If you raise too little, someone could sense weakness and re-raise you. At that point, you would likely fold and be wasting chips—again, it’s all math!

Bet sizing is a key skill in any form of no limit poker. If you are unable to make the correct sized bets at each stage of the hand, you’ll soon find that you will have serious weaknesses in your game that will be exploited by those sitting around you. By understanding the correct size bets, you will be able to maximize your wins and minimize losses. You will also be able to give opponents bad odds to call when they have drawing hands.

After you raise pre-flop, the flop comes out and you’re ready to bet. How much is a normal amount to bet now? Let’s say there are 1,000 chips in the pot and you have top pair, so you’re confident you have the best hand and you want to bet. A normal amount would be between 2/3 and ¾ of the pot, so a good wager would be around 700. Betting around ¾ of the pot is a good bet when you know you have the best hand but you want to get paid off. If someone bets into you after the flop comes and you want to raise, use the same strategy as re-raising before the flop by betting three times the other player’s raise. If there are 2,000 chips in the pot and your opponent bets 1,000 chips, a standard raise would be 3,000.

Knowing how many chips to put out is essential. It’s important to be consistent so that your opponent can’t tell by your bets what type of hand you have. Too small of a raise or bet could signal weakness. Too large of a raise or bet could look like a bluff. Good poker players, like competent football coaches, know the percentages at all times and are consistent with their applications.

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