In a little more than 24 hours from now PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker will kick off with its first event. The competition and field sizes are bound to be as tough as any we've seen in a long time.
It's not like top professionals to go around seeding the tournament fields with sage advice, but we've managed to get the man we know as ElkY to give us a little advice before the start of play.
ElkY believes that the concept of bet-sizing actually differs between live and online play and he's outlined his ideas below.
Thanks to ElkY for sharing a little bit of what makes him great.
Bet sizing for fun and profit
by Bertand "ElkY" Grospellier
On PokerStars, tournaments structures are getting better and better, and being deep stacked in many tournaments, we have to adapt our game to the structure.
Bet sizing becomes more important and it's crucial to know exactly the amount to bet. I believe that live and online tournaments aren't much different in that aspect, and the crucial part, of course, is to adapt to the table.
The first key in bet sizing is the size of your stack and that of your opponent(s) in the hand. Early in the tournament, it's hard to stack off to someone but if the situation is right, you should still try to maximize your chances to do so, and by then have a plan for how the hand will play out. On the other hand, when you have medium strength hand, you don't want to commit too big a portion of your chips in the pot. You may have a dilemma there. It would be the correct play to just go with the often heard: "Big hand, big pot", but from a metagame point of view, that's not very wise. I believe in online tournaments, especially the Sunday majors, the field is so big and tables change so often that people won't be able to realize what you are doing most of the time. It's still best to vary your game, like making a big bluff for pot size bet on the river once in a while if you judge the situation right.
The key thing in poker, especially as the games are all getting tougher, is to be aware of your image and the table dynamic it creates. Everyone knows how to evaluate your hand range based on your image, but adapting the bet sizing can be tougher. It depends quite a lot on your history at the table, if you have one. If you bet small on the river with the nuts in position, it might not be the most +EV bet at the time, but if you are playing with observant players, they will notice it, which will allow you to bluff cheaper on the river when the blinds and pots get bigger. They'll likely remember you are able to do that for value. On the other hand, if people see you as a maniac capable of bluffing all-in at anytime, then overbetting all-in with very strong hands is a very deceptive way to play. One very popular move these days is to come over the top all in pre-flop for a huge amount with big pairs, as a lot of opponents will be likely to put you on AK/AQ type of hands and call with a dominated pair.
Structure is also an important element into consider. The slower the structure is, the better it is for you, given you have an edge on other players. For this reason, you shouldn't want to take too many risks when you'll have plenty of play available. But the pre-flop play changes a lot. Early in tournament, as the blinds are very small compared to stack sizes, it's important to protect your big hand by raising a lot pre-flop. If everyone has 150+ bbs, hands like Kings or Aces can bring trouble, especially if the table is very passive and full of calling stations. So, you want to reduce the number of opponents. For example if the blinds are 25/50 with 10,000 starting stacks like in the Sunday Million, and there are five limpers ahead of you, I think making it 400 is the minimum. When the tournament reaches mid-stage, it's important to notice the size of the stacks of the people you are playing the hand with in order to establish a good strategy. On a re-steal attempt, for example, you want to give yourself maximum fold equity but not commit yourself into the hand. You want to pick the right opponent's stack to make this move. Deep into a tourney, the bet sizing pre-flop will usually be smaller. As everyone gets short-stacked, it becomes less important to protect your hand and more important to protect your stack. That's especially true if you have an aggressive pre-flop opening range.
Varying the bet sizing in function of your hand can be a dangerous concept, as it will be easier for some opponents to adapt to your betting patterns. Especially pre-flop, I like to always open for the same amount at every level, usually 3.5x to 4x early on down to 2.3-2.7xbb very deep in. After the flop however, there are many more considerations to make. A lot of those concepts are much more familiar to cash game players, but basically you want to bet the amount that will put your opponent to a tough decision every time. This is of course much easier to achieve as a big stack, as you can put maximum pressure on your opponent. The texture of the flop of course and number of opponents in the hand is a key concept to how much you should bet. If you have [Qs] [Qc] on a [Qh] [Ts] [9h] board out of position against 3 players, you will have to bet a different amount than if you have [Ks] [Kd] on a [Kc] [7d] [2h] board. The best course of action is to calculate on the flop -- depending how deep you are -- how to stack your opponent when you think your hand is best.
Position matters also, as it allows you to manipulate your opponent much more easily. You can get full value out of your big hands and lose the minimum when you get outdrawn. As it is tougher to play hands out of position, you usually want to re-raise more pre-flop if you are out of position, and even more so against good players. When I'm in position against my most likely opponents, however, I don't want to discourage the action, especially if we both have sufficient stacks for post-flop play to matter. I believe people make more mistakes post-flop in poker, and when I have a legitimate hand, I don't mind playing against the blinds.
Antes make no-limit tournaments much more interesting, as people need to play more hands. It makes the pre-flop aggression so much more worthwhile, but I don't advocate raising more when ante kicks in, as it will commit a bigger portion of your stack and not necessarily reduce the chances of getting called enough. It does affect the steal-resteal game a lot, and opening and/or re-raising a wider range is largely rewarded when antes kicks in.
Finally, I think changing up bet sizing a lot is very important. It also requires a lot of skill and has to be used wisely, as it can also make your game more predictable. Analyzing all the aspects of the hand you are in should be done every time. You need to plan the hand ahead on every street, and then betting the amount that will make your opponent react in the most favorable way.
I'll give you one example of a hand I played in the WCOOP Main Event. I had 58,000 in the big blind with [Ad] [Qc]. A very aggressive player, holla@yoboy ID on PokerStars, opened for a standard raise of 2,100 at 400/800 blinds from mid-position and got a call from another good player on the button. I had many options on how to play the hand, because the opening player had 42,000 in chips, I figured if I three-bet to something like 6,500 or 7,000, he would be in a position where he could easily lay down his weaker hands, but also might read my re-raise for a squeeze move and shove over the top with most of his pocket pairs. That would be a disastrous situation for me.
Putting that much money in preflop with [Ad] [Qc] at this stage of the tournament isn't really something I want to do, but re-raising and folding to a push would make my image much weaker. People wouldn't give me credit in the future which is something I need. I therefore chose to call and play the flop.
It came [As] [Th] [5h]. With 7,000 in the pot and knowing my opponent's tendencies, I thought a checkraise would make him lay down most of his hands. I was pretty confident that I was way ahead of his range, as the only hands that could beat me are A-K, A-T, A-5, T-T or 5-5. It's a very small combination compared to all the combo draws that are out there, including any ace suited in hearts, [Qh] [Jh]. It would also let me see the button's reaction before committing more money. So, if the button raised, I could still get away cheaply.
My opponent bet 4,000, a very standard continuation bet size. I decided to make it 12,000 because of the drawy texture of the board. It would also leave him exactly 28,000 more, the perfect size bet for him to make a move on me with a semi-bluff. I believe if he is in position with a monster like a set or A-T, calling would be his favorite play.
He instantly shoved all-in and I snap called. He showed me K-J for a gutshot straight draw, three outs because I had one of the queens. My hand held up and I raked a big pot that made me chip leader at my table for the time being. If I had raised more on the flop, I would have left him with no fold equity and he would have mucked his hand right there. It would've ended up costing me 35,000 chips more. If I had raised less, I believe he might have called getting very good odds, or maybe re-raised me. Then it would have been very difficult for me to put the fourth raise in with my hand.
Good luck in SCOOP!