There are two main types of betting in poker: value betting and bluffing. While bluffing is important, knowing how to value bet in poker is an essential part of improving your winrate whether you play ABC poker or another style. In this article I want to discuss what a value bet is, why it’s so important, and some useful ways to improve your value betting strategy.
First, what is a value bet? Well to understand what is a value bet is we also need to understand what a bluff is:
So a value bet gets action from enough worse hands to generate value for your hand. It should go without saying then that it’s much easier to value bet against a fish. Fish don’t fold often and thus it’s easy to value bet hands like top pair, over-pairs, etc. You simply want to get either called or raised by worse hands…and of course avoid your opponent folding with a ton of hands that you beat.
That being said, not all value is created equal. For instance, if you have the nuts, it is always a value bet because any hand that continues is behind (or chopping), so your bet is always +EV. But as your hand gets further away from the nuts, the possibility of your opponent having a hand that beats you and wouldn’t fold increases. And eventually your hand might get so far away from the nuts and be behind so many hands that your hand becomes either a very thin value bet or possibly even a bluff!
This is easily explained with an example. Take this hand:
$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
Hero (MP): $100
Preflop: Hero is MP with X X
UTG folds, Hero raises to $3, 3 folds, BB calls $2
Flop: ($6.50) 9 Q 5 (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $4.50, BB calls $4.50
Turn: ($15.50) 6 (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $11, BB calls $11
River: ($37.50) 8 (2 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $26
On the river this is a very easy value bet with a hand like JT, because any hand he continues with is behind our hand (or chops with us). But what about if we have AA, QJ, or JJ? Then we have to think about the range of hands that would give our bet action, and compare our hand to that range to see if our bet is actually for value. Here are some factors we’d want to consider:
- How fishy is our opponent?: The fishier villain is, the more we should focus on value betting them (and subsequently, the less we should bluff them). Fish fold less often, call more often, and thus we can value bet some hands against them that we couldn’t against a nit or TAG.
- What is villain’s range?: What kinds of hands does villain have by the time we get to the river? Did he call the flop and turn with hands like JJ and TT? Does he have a lot of Qx or only hands like KQ/AQ? Does he have many busted flush draws?
- What would villain continue with if we bet?: If we bet on any street we want to consider what villain would continue with. Would he continue with Qx if we bet this river when the board 4-straights? If not, would this really be a good value bet with AA?
- Would our size influence things?: The size of our bet can dramatically change the value, and even validity, of a value bet. Players are more likely to continue with worse hands if we make a smaller bet, and are likely to continue against bigger bets with stronger hands. With that being said, fish tend to be more inelastic when calling bets and nits/TAGs tend to be more elastic.
- Does a bet let villain play close to perfect?: If by betting villain would never fold out a better hand or continue with a worse hand, our bet accomplishes very little. Why bet the river with KK against a nit who would never continue with a second best hand? Don’t let anybody play perfectly against you!
To be honest, one of the biggest poker leaks I find in beginner players is the inability to think about what their bet actually accomplishes. The next biggest leak is making value bets that aren’t actually valuable. Here is a classic example:
$0.50/$1 No Limit Hold’em Cash, 6 Players
Hero (BTN): $100
Preflop: Hero is BTN with A 6
UTG folds, MP raises to $3, CO folds, Hero raises to $10, 2 folds, MP calls $7
Flop: ($21.50) A K 9 (2 players)
MP checks, Hero bets $14
In this example MP is a nit. When he calls our 3bet OOP chances are he has a pretty strong hand, so what does our bet accomplish? On an AK9 board is he really going to check/call with hands like JJ or TT? Is he ever going to fold a hand like AK or AQ? Does he have a lot of Kx stuff when he calls a 3bet OOP? This is a spot that many players CB simply because they have top pair, but without really considering how valuable (if at all) the bet really is…
The big thing to take away from all of this is to 1. make sure that you know what your bet accomplishes (is it value or a bluff?), and then 2. make sure your value bets actually generate value. If no second-best hands continue against your bet, then it’s probably not a good value bet. Also remember that you can use bet sizing to your advantage when you consider elasticity and villain’s calling-station tendencies. As always, just think before making your bet and ensure your bets are valid and valuable, and print dollars with your stronger hands!