One of the easiest patterns to pick up when dealing with weaker, inexperienced players is bet sizing. More often than not when your opponent flops what he thinks is the best hand after being the preflop raiser he will bet bigger. This is especially true when the pot is multiway and the board is draw heavy. One of the worst things that can happen psychologically to recreation players is getting sucked out on.
That is why you see a trend, at the lower levels, of betting to protect one’s hand instead of betting for value. These types of opponents want to drive out the draws because usually they are incapable of folding what they perceive to be big hands.
Great players will keep their continuation betting amounts balanced so that it is possible that they have bluffs in their range. That is why you will notice these players betting the same amount—usually 1/2 to 2/3 pot size in almost every situation. You cannot draw anything from the strength of their hand through bet sizing. This is something that you should strive to replicate.
Great players also realize the effective stacks within a hand. Three and four-bet situations bloat the size of the pot drastically. Say we start with effective stacks of $700 in a $5-$5 game. The under the gun raises to $25, one person calls, and the button makes it $90. We look down at A♦ A♣ and reraise to $220. It gets back to the button who now calls. The pot is $490 and we have $480 left in our stack. The money is going in no matter what the flop is our four bet made sure of that. Would it surprise you to realize that betting something super small or sometimes even checking the flop is close to optimal? Say the board runs out 9♣ 3♠ 3♦. We can bet as little as $100 here and easily get the money in by the end of the hand even if we check the turn. Good players realize this and bet small in these situations to make it look like they are bluffing. Less observant players might come out and bet as much as $300 basically announcing the fact that they are committing themselves. It is easy to evaluate your hand against a large bettor in this situation because you can basically treat his flop bet as an all-in.
Let us look at one more simple example in a single raise pot that will demonstrate hand strength based upon flop continuation bet sizing. A tight, early position, recreational player, opens to $15 with A♣ Q♣ in a $2-$3 no limit game with $400 effective stacks. Two players call. The flop comes out J♥ 4♠ 3♠. The preflop raiser continuation bets to $20. What do we think the under the gun player has? Do we think that he is strong? Would he not bet larger on a board that is so draw heavy with a hand that he thinks is best? My contention is yes. His sizing is usually indicative of a hand that he is not super comfortable with. It could be 99 or TT and it also could be a hand like AK or AQ. The point here is that he almost never shows up with AA, KK or even AJ because he would have bet a lot larger to drive the draws out so that he will not get a “bad beat”.
A better player would bet here to about $25-30 with almost his entire range. You would not be able to tell if he is continuation betting with nothing or if he has a real hand. The next time that you are at the table make it a special point to try and notice continuation bet sizing and what gets revealed at showdown. You will find that smaller continuation bets are usually indicative of weaker hands unless the player has flopped an absolute monster like top set.