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Leverage Explained (in Big Bet Poker)

30 July 2009, By:
In no-limit and pot-limit poker, leverage is possibly THE most important strategical concept. When you first understand leverage, your game will take a giant leap forward.
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According to, leverage means "the mechanical advantage gained by being in a position to use a lever".

With a lever you can lift things that are heavier than your actual forces would seem to allow.

A place to stand

Archimedes's "give me a place to stand and I'll move the earth", means that if there was just one stable place somewhere in the universe, he'd be able to move the earth using a lever.

In big bet poker (no limit and pot limit) a similar principle comes into play when you back up a small bet with a big stack.

For the opponent, even if the bet itself isn't that big and a call might seem worthwhile with his marginal hand, the threat of facing bigger bets on later streets can be enough to motivate a fold right away.

Rapidly increasing bet size

As opposed to fixed-limit poker, in no-limit and pot-limit the size of the bets tends to increase "exponentially" with each street.

If you call $10 on the flop, the turn bet may be $30 and when the river comes, you may be looking at a $90 bet for a total of $130 on the three streets.

It's not obvious that a hand worth a $10 call is also worth calling $130.

The mere threat of having to call a total of $130 could very well make you choose not to call the $10 in the first place. In this case, it's sensible to say that the opponent has used a form of leverage to turn a $10 decision into a $130 decision for you.

It cost him $10 to threaten you with a $130 call.

How bet sizes increase

If we assume that there's one pot sized bet on each street and that all players call this bet, the table below shows how the bet size increases street for street if there are 2, 3, 4 or 5 players in the hand. (We assume that there's $10 in the pot on the flop.)

Nbr. of players

Flop bet

Turn bet

River bet






















Of course, the actual development of the bet size depends on the players who do the betting, and it can vary freely from zero (basically) to the maximum.

But the threat of future big bets is real. If you have played some big bet poker, you know what that threat feels like.

Leverage in the poker literature

The concept of leverage has been discussed by Bob Ciaffone in his "Improve Your Poker" and Howard Lederer in his chapter of the "Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide", among others.

When you understand the idea behind leverage in big bet poker, your game will become more threatening and you'll be a force to be reckoned with at the table.

Go ahead and be a threat! =)

/Charlie River

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