Poker Elasticity vs. Inelasticity When Bet Sizing

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Many economic concepts carry over nicely to poker, and one of the big ones I talk about often is “elasticity”.  Understanding what an elastic range is, an inelastic range is, and how to exploit players with different level of elasticity can give you a huge edge in the bet sizing war.  This concept is so important I actually have a section dedicated to it in chapter 9 of my full ring poker book.  In this video I show you what being elastic is and why fish tend to be inelastic when facing bet sizes.  We also look at an example and show how we can exploit a player with an inelastic range by making an overbet shove.  As always, if you prefer reading the script for the video can be found below.  Enjoy!

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Hello, and welcome to today’s Quick Plays video on Elasticity in poker. Elasticity is an economic concept that measures how changing one economic variable affects others. This concept carries over nicely to poker when looking at bet sizing and continuance frequencies. In this video you’ll learn what elastic and inelastic ranges are, how they are useful, and how this knowledge can help you exploit players in the future.

First off, what is elasticity? When analyzed in the context of pricing, elasticity measures how a change in pricing will influence the demand. Put another way, if we change the price of a product how will sales and profits change? To ensure this doesn’t become a brutal economics lecture let’s take a very simple example:

You sell rubber ducks. You use your sales data and determine that if you sell each rubber duck at $2 you will sell 1 million ducks. Well let’s graph that on a graph with:

  • X axis being number of sales
  • Y axis being price

We then consider what would happen if we raise the price to $50, which of course is significantly larger. We think by raising the price to $50 we would only sell 50k ducks. If we do the math here, at $2 we would make $2M in revenue, and at $50 we would make $2.5M in revenue. Given these numbers we’d be better off selling our ducks at $50 each…this is basic economics.

rubber duck store

Now in this example our customers are elastic, meaning that they would purchase differently as the price changes.  If our customers were inelastic it would mean that they would purchase the same amount regardless of the price. So they would buy, for example, 1M units whether the price were $2 or $50. If our customers are inelastic then we should simply price our product as high as possible. I’m sure you can think of a company or two that does this.

Ok, now I’m sure you are really thankful for the mini-economics lesson, but how does this all apply to poker? Well instead of charting the axis of price and sales, could we change them to bet size and number of calls? They are essentially saying the same exact thing, just with a slightly different nomenclature.

If we view poker as a business, when we choose a bet size we are selling a product. We are either vying for our opponent to continue (when we have the best hand), or vying for our opponent to fold (when we have the worst hand). It’s a bit over-simplisitic, but it’s a powerful way of visualizing what we do on the tables.

Think about yourself for a moment. Say you are on the river and the pot is $50 with effective stacks of $200. If you face a bet from villain would you call a $2 bet more often than a $200 bet? I know I sure would. I’m going to call the $2 bet much more often and with a much wider range than I would a $200 bet. A large chunk of this reason is because against a $2 bet we are getting 26:1 and against a $200 bet we are only getting 1.25:1 on a call. But regardless we are very likely to be elastic in this situation and give different prices different frequencies of action.

small or large bet sizes

What about a fishy opponent? A fish is more likely to be inelastic. They make decisions based upon absolute strength rather than good players like ourselves who make decisions based upon relative strength. Absolute hand strength is like saying “TPTK is always good” and relative hand strength would say “how strong is my TPTK relative to my opponent’s range?”

Fish also don’t use poker math, whereas good players do. So a fish isn’t going to look at pot odds when he faces different bet sizes. He will simply make decisions based upon his absolute hand strength and/or feelings…and thus is more likely to be inelastic and call regardless of the actual bet size. Good players don’t do that and thus good players tend to be elastic in general.

That being said, there are some common exceptions that we should discuss quickly. First is bet sizing in the absolute sense. If the pot were $150 it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a bet size of $100 (a typical 2/3 pot sized bet). However, some players are scared of that monetary threshold, so the absolute value of the bet size influences their decision. Really, there should be no difference between facing a $100 bet into a $150 pot or a $20 bet into a $30 pot. They both offer the same odds and the bet is 2/3 relative to the pot.

normal bet size

Many players, especially in small live games like $1/$2, get irrationally fearful of $100+ bets, so while they may be inelastic to any bet size up to $99, once the size is $100+ they begin to give action at a much lower frequency. This is an example of bad players making decisions based upon absolute dollar value rather than relative pot odds.

Another common exception is elastic players who become inelastic due to an absolute hand strength. We all know the bad player who can’t fold top pair to any bets or sizes because his absolute hand strength is too strong in his eyes to ever fold. Sometimes elastic players do this same thing, although it’s often times with hands like flushes and full houses. Take an example like this:

Here we open AA from EP, the CO calls and we see a HU flop of A76. We bet, he calls. Turn is a 6s, we continue value betting and he calls. The river is a Th, filling both the straight draw and flush draw and we decide we are going to bet. But what do we bet? If he were inelastic with straights or better then we should choose a very large bet or even shove to punish him for the times he can’t fold the absolute strength of his hand. Sure straights and flushes are usually the best hand, but if they are relatively weak compared to villain’s range, then they can be folded.

But lesser players don’t think like that. Lesser players think “well, I have X hand and thus I can’t fold”. When really the thought should be “well, I have X hand, but how does that compare to my opponent’s range and the math?” If the CO is inelastic with straights or better, make a big bet…even consider an overbet or possibly a shove. If the CO is elastic and shoving would only get you looked up by exact quads and straight flushes, why bother shoving? As always, good players ask themselves what their bets would accomplish and choose lines that exploit ranges and inelastic mistakes!

absolute hand strength

The concept of elasticity is very powerful when choosing your exact sizes at the table. Consider which players are elastic versus inelastic and choose sizing strategies that exploit them appropriately. Also consider your own elasticity levels, if you may be inelastic with absolute hand strengths, and understand real factors when deciding how to react to certain bet sizes.

As a final note, you can also use the concept of elasticity when bluffing. For instance, if a player is inelastic and would fold regardless, why not choose a smaller bluff size? Similarly, if a player is very elastic, why not size your bluff large enough to create those extra folds? A little bit of thinking and reflection on this concept can revolutionize your bet sizing strategy and help you find extra spots to interject edge. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask, otherwise good luck and happy grinding!

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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