Many low-stakes players view bets in terms of absolute sizes, as opposed to viewing them in relation to the pot. This is a problem.

Here’s a scenario you’ve probably seen at many live $1/$2 games:

  • A five-way limped pot is checked around on the flop
  • This means after the rake, there’s 9 dollars in the pot
  • The turn brings a flush draw, and somebody bets $10

Many players (hopefully not you) are happy to call here with any bare flush draw because “it’s only 10 bucks”.

Anyone with a fundamental understanding of pot odds should understand that this is a costly error, regardless of how “small” the bet size seems to be.

To demonstrate the error-in-judgement here, simply re-imagine the scenario with larger bet sizes and larger pot sizes, while keeping the ratios the same.

In this situation, when this same player is on the turn with a weak flush draw, they snap-fold, facing a $100 bet into a $90 pot. When the bet was $10, they gladly flick it in.

Here’s why low-stakes games are ripe for this mistake:

  • There are far more limped pots in low-stakes games
  • And people don’t like betting “tiny” dollar amounts, even if the pot itself is small

As a result, you’ll see people bet and call small dollar amounts that are actually quite large relative to the pot, and this isn’t just relegated to drawing hands on the flop or turn. Many times this mistake will persist all the way to the river.

Let’s examine how people play multi-way limped pots:

  • First, there’s very little bluffing, either because the juice is not worth the squeeze or because players know their opponents too often call “small” bets (the ones discussed in this Lesson) for their bluffs to get through.
  • Secondly, people are reluctant to “protect” their hands in these pots by betting, since there isn’t much of a pot to “protect”.

Eventually, these pots get checked around until the river, when someone inevitably bets full pot with their top or second pair, only to get called by third or fourth pair.

  • Once again, it’s a safe assumption those players would not make those calls if the pot and bet size were much larger

So now that we understand what this mistake is, let’s look at some of the ways you can avoid making it, as well as how you can capitalize against your opponents who do.

  1. Be involved in fewer limped pots.
  • If you are frequently facing $10 or $20 pot-sized bets, then you are probably doing too much preflop limping.
  1. Always ask yourself what you would do if the pot and bet sizes were both 5-10 times larger.
  • If you wouldn’t call a $75 bet into a $75 pot, then you should probably not call a $15 bet into a $15 pot. If one is a mistake, then they both are, and they will add up over time.
  1. Take advantage of your opponents’ calling tendencies with your value hands.
  • Because many players in these small pots only care about absolute bet size, they are probably going to call $15 just as easy as they’ll call $10..
  • Exploit this weakness by consistently sizing up your value bets in small pots.
  1. Don’t bluff in small pots.
  • This is a logical progression from the previous point. If your opponents are calling pot-sized bets too frequently, it does not incentivize you to bluff at them.
  1. Don’t call light against “small” bets that are actually large in relation to the pot.
  • Besides the fact that the math of the call should make you tighten up (as the pot odds are poor), you should recognize that your opponents are heavily weighted towards “having it” when they make these bets.
  • They are usually betting the size of the pot simply because it seems “unnatural” to bet less.