Value betting is such an important skill. In fact, it is so essential that a failure to understand how to make and size value bets will make it technically impossible to become a winning player, even at the microstakes.
An incorrect definition of ‘value betting’ is the lead cause of both failing to get value and trying to value bet in unadvisable situations.
Here are two examples of very widespread, but bad definitions of value betting. The flaws of these descriptions will point us towards the true definition.
Bad Definition 1: Betting because we think that we have the best hand.
The main problem with this conception of a value bet is that unless we hold the nuts or close to it, it is simply unreasonable for us to ‘think that we have the best hand’. It is much more accurate and less black and white to add a qualifier to this claim such as ‘usually’ or ‘most of the time’. A more technically accurate way to think about it would be to say that our hand is strong enough such that we are ahead of Villain’s range. This does not entail that we are ahead all of the time or that there should be some kind of guessing necessary as to whether or not we have the best hand right here in this instance – that is simply unknowable and therefore irrelevant.
Bad Definition 2: Betting because we think we are ahead of Villain’s range.
Better, but still flawed. The counter-example goes as follows: Imagine that we see a flop in a heads-up pot and you hold KK on a flop of 555. In this toy game, you know exactly what my range is and know it to be [AA, JT]. This means that you are ahead of my range. Why would this be? Because there are only six combinations of AA and sixteen of JT. I hold the weaker part of my range 16/22 times or 73% of the time. Moreover, you suspect that if you bet, I will call with AA and fold with JT; can you value bet?
The obvious answer should be: certainly not. The idea is that if you bet, I will continue all and only hands that beat you. What would possibly be the point in building the pot only to have very poor equity whenever I continue? Making me fold my JTo is actually a bad idea for you; do you see why? If you let me continue, I might easily hit a pair on the turn or river and loose a big pot to your bigger fullhouse.
It is not enough to simply be ahead of your opponent’s range.
Good Definition: Betting because we think that we are ahead of our opponents range if and when we get called.
Much better, now I actually need to be continuing to your bet with the JTo in order to make value betting a sensible idea. Stick to this definition and you have overcome the first hurdle at which many aspiring players fall.
Building pots in poker is bread and butter money earning for one simple reason. If the pot is small, it is impossible to make a massive bet that our opponent has incentive to call without a very strong hand. Some beginners love to slow-play their good hands, terrified that they might ‘scare him away’ by betting. This notion is fundamentally flawed and rests on a mistaken idea as to what the goal of value betting really is. The player who is afraid of Villain folding is trying to achieve a goal such as:
‘I must keep Villain in the hand.’
If the pot is still tiny by the river, there is not much benefit from Villain still being in the hand. Of course we would prefer that our opponent did not fold to our value bets, but this is something that we should dismiss with a clear conscience as firmly out of our control. If Villain has utter trash and wants to fold, that is his prerogative. Our goal is to win the maximum amount from the hands that do want to play. We must not let his top pair off the hook and neglect to build a big pot when we have flopped a set, just so that we can occasionally earn an few chips from ace-high. Our goal with a very strong value hand should be adjusted to:
‘I must earn the maximum over 1000 occurrences of this situation’
If we try to keep Villain in the pot at all costs, we extract something more of the time, but we earn a good amount of money far less often and simply make less money over 1000 simulations of that spot and similar spots. This is what causes players to be losers. They earn so little with their value hands due to this irrational urge to slowplay that when the bad variance arrives and they are on the wrong end of things, there is no profit from the good times to compensate.
Follow this golden rule about pot building and you will not fail to earn the true worth of your value hands over the long-term:
If Hero is not checking to the previous street’s aggressor and has a hand strong enough to bet for value, Hero should bet for value.
1. Hero is out of position and by checking, knows that Villain will usually bet.
2. The pot is already big enough to let a street go un-bet and still get the remainder of the stack in by the river without over-betting AND the board is relatively dry.
Exception 1 occurs when we seek to take advantage of a weaker player who stabs at pots too aggressively when checked to. We might call this ‘trap checking’ or ‘checking to induce’.
Exception 2 occurs when we have all of the time in the world to put the rest of the money in either because Villain is short-stacked or the pot is already huge from the pre-flop action, or both. Be careful though, if the flop is wet, we usually want to do our value betting urgently as giving a free card could be too risky. That free card could make Villain the best hand when he was planning on folding the flop, or kill our action by making the board scarier where Villain would have called a flop bet.
Here is a little trick about value bet sizing that sounds a little obvious once you acknowledge it:
Bigger bets do not need to be called as often as smaller bets to net the same amount of long-term profit.
For example, on the river you hold a hand that you believe to be the effective nuts. Needless to say you are ahead of Villain’s calling range. Villain is a passive, call-happy opponent. Congratulations, you meet the definition of a value bet and can fire away. But what size do you choose? You are right to assume that Villain’s calling range will usually contract to some extent if you make the bet larger, but this is more than okay. Let’s imagine that Villain will call a half-pot sized bet with 75% of his range and only call a pot-sized bet with 40% of his range. The pot is $20. Do you bet $10 or $20? Let’s find out.
Average Profit = Bet Size x Frequency Bet Gets Called
Average Profit with $10 bet = 10 x 0.75 = $7.50
Average Profit with $20 bet = 20 x 0.4 = $8.00
So even though it is tempting to use the size that generates more action, we see the average profit is all that matters. If Villain folds this time, so be it. Our goal is to make the most money in the long-term.
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