Losing NLHE cash game players have a lot of leaks.  Often they have big problems early in hands, things such as poor starting hand selection, and continuing on the flop and turn with inadequate hand values and in poor situations.  When we start studying the game, learning and improving over time, these are often the first leaks we shore up.  If we are playing against player pools of largely inexperienced/poor players (like low stakes live games or micro-stakes online) who themselves have these leaks, this is often enough to get us on the positive side of the ledger.

Eventually we may plateau, and be looking for the next step.  One of the ways to increase your win rate is to increase your river value betting frequency.   Let me give you a common example:

You’re in a live $1-$3 game in Vegas, playing $300 stacks.   A Loose-passive player limps in from middle position, and you raise from the button with AhQs to $12.  The BB (a TAG) and the limper call.   The flop comes QcTh2h.  Both check, and you continuation bet $20 into the $33 (after rake) pot.  The BB folds and the LP player calls.  The turn is the 5s.  He checks, you bet $40 into $70 and he calls.  The river is the 7h, making the final board QcTh2h5s7h.  He checks to you.  You check the hand down, and table your AQ.  “Nice hand” he says, flashing the Qd before mucking.   This is a scenario that plays out every day, in every card room, live and online. 

This is a spot that calls for a value bet on the river, and our failure to do so has left at least $75 on the table.  The most common reason this gets checked down is the player is afraid of the flush card.  “What will I do if they check-raise me?”  Well that’s really easy, we fold, because a LP player check-raising the river here always has the flush and our hand is never good, so we don’t have to pay off.  The player has more hands that are Qx and Tx in their range however than 2 hearts, and this is the type of player who routinely pays off with these hands (especially top pair), so go ahead and extract value. 

Hopefully this example makes sense to you.  The next question you may be having then is how do you know when to bet the river for value, i.e. when is a river value bet profitable?   It’s a very important question, because I often see players making a critical mistake in this regard.  They say something like “well the villain’s range on the river is XYZ, and I’m beating more of that than I’m losing to, so I should value bet”.  Just because we’re ahead of their range they got to the river with, doesn’t mean we should make a value bet necessarily.  The critical point to evaluate is will we be ahead more often than not when our bet gets called.   For example, if we are up against a range to which we are ahead 75% of the time, but we think the villain will only call a river bet (or raise) with their top 25% of hands, then there is no value in making this bet since, while we are ahead of 3/4 of their hands now, they are folding all those worse hands  to a bet… meaning when we get called we will lose our river bet. 

So ask yourself, what range of hands (out of the range they got to the river with) do you expect will call your bet, and evaluate your hand strength against that range.   The break even point on this river value bet is 50%, so if we think we’ll be good more than this, we have a value betting opportunity. 

Thin Value Bets:  To be clear on this term, it means a bet that we think has a positive expectation, but it’s close.   Most of us don’t have a problem value betting the river with a king high flush on a 5c6h7s3c9c board.  We understand we can get called by any of multiple straights and smaller flushes, as well as suspicious sets or 2 pairs, and are only losing to one specific hand, the nut flush.  This is a strong value betting opportunity, and it’s not close.  A thin value bet is when it is close.  Like, if we think we’ll be good 51% of the time when called, then our bet is +EV but it’s very thin (very close to break even). 

This is the toughest spot to increase our win rate, being able to correctly evaluate and pull the trigger on thin spots.   I recommend starting with all your river spots that you normally check down, and evaluate them with the above ideas in mind… then start value betting spots like the AQ example (which is not thin imo).  As you continue this exercise of evaluating your river spots, you should gain more confidence to be pushing the envelope intelligently in terms of extracting value on the river.   And you’ll start to see your win rate improve as a result.