There are three main types of betting in poker: value betting, bluffing, and betting for protection. While bluffing is important and protection is a bi-product of understanding equity – 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 guide, 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:
A bet that gets action from enough worse hands
A bet that folds out enough of their better hands
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 your strong hands like top pairs, 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 crush.
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 be behind so many hands that your hand becomes either a very thin value bet or possibly even a bluff!
Value Betting Example
This is easily explained with an example. Take this hand:
Hero (MP): $100
Preflop: Hero is MP with X X
UTG folds, Hero raises to $3, 3 folds, BB calls $2
Flop: ($6.50) Q♠ 9♥ 5♥
BB checks, Hero bets $4.50, BB calls $4.50
Turn: ($15.50) 6♣
BB checks, Hero bets $11, BB calls $11
River: ($37.50) 8♦
BB checks, Hero bets $26
On the river, this is a very easy value bet with a hand like JT, because any hand the BB continues with is behind our hand (or chops with us). But what about if we hold AA, QJ, or JJ? Then we have to think about the range of hands that would give our bet action, and compare that against our hand.
Value Bet Considerations
Here are some factors we’d want to consider when trying to deduce if a bet we make is easy value, thin value, or possibly neither of those:
- 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 your opponent’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 newer 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:
Hero (BTN): $100
Preflop: Hero is BTN with T♣ T♥
UTG folds, MP raises to $3, CO folds, Hero 3bets to $10, 2 folds, MP calls $7
Flop: ($21.50) Q♣ 9♥ 7♦
MP checks, Hero bets $14
In this example, MP is a nit. When he opts to call our 3bet OOP chances are he has a pretty strong hand, so what does our bet accomplish? On a Q97 flop is he really going to check/call with hands like AK or 55? Is he ever going to fold a hand like AQ or KK?
This is a spot that many players continuation bet simply because they have a decent pair and initiative in the hand. But when you really break it down, against a nitty opponent this is more of a bet for protection than it is for value (thin or otherwise).
Real Value Or Showdown Value?
One of the most confusing parts of poker is when a hand has real value or showdown value. The more real value a hand has, the more interested we are in building the pot and capitalizing on our massive equity-edge. But sometimes our hand shifts closer to showdown value, meaning our hand is likely to win at showdown but not likely to get continuance from second-best hands if we were to continue firing.
We can exemplify this with a hand that I actually played at $1/$2. In this spot, I have K9 and improve to top pair with the 9 on the turn. But is my hand closer to value or, facing a bet, should I treat my hand more as showdown value and just call the $25 bet? Push play and see if you agree with my play & reasoning…
Keep in mind that we need to consider what the big blind is betting with, how our K9 performs against that range, and how our top pair performs against the range our opponent would give an all-in action with. It’s easy to come up with assumptions that can make this a slamdunk value raise and even assumptions that would make this value raise terrible (for instance, against tighter players)
Maximum Value With Overpairs
Let’s look at another example, but this time we have an overpair to the board. With TT we need to make some big decisions and figure out if the river bet is actually going to be for value. Push play and see how value betting with an overpair should be looked at:
Bear in mind that this is a 3bet pot and villain not only 3bet preflop, but also checked the flop. What is a player like this really check/calling with on both the flop AND turn here? When you properly deduce that, you begin to see how the river bet can be fat value against fishy players who can show up with hands like Ace-high and 44 – but that actual value of the hand drops off quickly as our opponent tightens up.
In fact, we could very well be turning our overpair into a bluff if we suspect overpairs sometimes fold and that no second-best hands (like 88 or Ace-King) give our river all-in action.
Fat vs. Thin Value
Like we’ve discussed multiple times already, value has a spectrum. There is fat value where you suspect the equity of your hand is massive compared to your opponent’s continuance range. And then value can get super thin to the point where maybe you only have a 51% equity edge on your opponent’s range.
There is no commonly-accepted equity edge where thin value ends and fat value begins – but the closer to 50% your equity edge gets, the thinner your value bet is.
Let’s break this down with another example. This time we have J7 on 755, but when the river is a King, we have to decide if our bet is fat value, thin value, or maybe not even worth betting in the first place…
The big thing to take away from all of this is:
- Make sure that you know what your bet accomplishes (is it value or a bluff?)
- 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!