Bet Sizing Live vs. Online

I have been listening to a few poker podcasts lately that talk about betsizing on later streets that I believe have the wrong idea.  The basic premise is that in live poker you want your opponent(or you, if he covers you) to have about a 2/3 pot sized bet left on the river.  The reasoning is that your opponent will have invested a significant amount of money already and will be getting good odds to call you.  I believe that it is a mistake to translate this play, that works on the internet, to live play for two reasons.

Firstly, live play is usually significantly deeper than on the internet.  This means that the river bet is going to be more significant amount live and you often will have had to announce your strength to your opponents earlier in order to be betting that amount.  The combination of these two effects means that your opponent will more often fold when a lot of money goes into the pot.  While this was not always the way people reacted in the past, I believe it is the way that the games are trending.

Secondly, on the internet the pot size is right in front of you, whereas in live play, you must make an effort to count it.  This means that while people have a general idea of the pot size being small, medium or large, they don’t know it exactly and thus a 2/3 pot size bet to them means less than it would online.  In addition, live opponents (especially the poorer playing ones) are more influenced by the amount you bet (also being small, medium or large) then the amount relative to the pot.  So, if the pot is “big” to them you will be called with roughly the same range for anything they perceive to be “big” bet.

So how should this affect your strategy?  I think that when value betting, you should be betting the most your opponent will call and that in live poker, the amount is inelastic once it has become “big.”  When value betting against certain opponents, you will have to be content with not getting their entire stack.  For an extreme example, if your opponent will not call more than $500 on the turn or river, then you are often best off betting $500 on both streets, instead of trying to set him up for a 2/3 pot size bet on the river(which he won’t call if it is more than $500).

Also, I think that you can push your opponents off hands by betting amounts that push them out of their comfort zones.  For example, in a limped 4 way pot, if the flop comes 922 and I lead out from the big blind and get called by one player.  I check the turn 4 and he checks too.  I can make a “big” bet on the river and win the pot most of the time, since when my opponent does not bet the turn, he doesn’t have a “big” hand and thus won’t call a “big bet” with it.

I hope this stirred up some thoughts on bet sizing, and I would love to hear what others think about the differences between live and online.

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