Value betting, whereby we try to add to the pot by betting with a strong hand in order to induce a call from a weaker one, is an important part of poker. Consequently, it’s also an element of the game that leads to less experienced players making mistakes. What often happens is that players tend to incorrectly ‘recognise’ when it’s time for a value bet when, in fact, caution is called for.
A common example of this is when players, hitherto believing they have the best hand against a single opponent, suddenly find themselves facing a River bet yet still opting to raise ‘for value’ (so they think) in an attempt to eke out as much possible profit after making the running.
Of course, such a strategy may sometimes add a few extra chips to the bankroll but, alas, doing this kind of thing can be a recipe for disaster. Apart from laying ourselves open to a big bet (or a bluff!) that forces us to make an awkward decision, there is also a good chance that we are falling into a trap. And herein lies the crucial importance of knowing when to bet for value, and having some good old-fashioned common sense that brings with it a necessary dose of caution – this is a distinction that we grow to appreciate with experience.
Here’s a typical example of this kind of scenario. We are dealt Ad Qd on the Button and our standard raise is called by the Big Blind and a mid-position limper. The Flop brings Ah 8d 5s, giving us top pair with a high kicker and a backdoor flush draw to add to our positional advantage. It’s checked to us and we put in a pot-sized bet, which only the BB calls.
The Turn throws up the 3d, which shouldn’t help our opponent but gives us the nut flush draw. The BB checks once again and, our confidence helped by the Turn, we make another pot-sized bet which, again, is called. It’s not at all clear what our opponent is holding. Perhaps it’s a flush draw. Regardless, it’s not good to be in the dark, even if we do have what appears to be a strong hand. The point of having information is to be able to make decisions with a degree of confidence, and in this example, we have none – other than that our opponent is willing to keep investing. Nevertheless, this very fact that we’re not in possession of some key knowledge here should be a warning in itself.
The River is the 5h and, blatantly going against the pattern of play thus far, the BB decides to wake up, betting around half of the pot. If they were on a – now missed – flush draw, this could be an attempted steal based on our possibly having been doing the same. Having said that, we raised pre-flop and continued betting, suggesting we were dealt a strong hand, so it’s unlikely our opponent believes we have two diamonds. Yet they’re still coming out betting the River, out of position. Why?
Not only is this the kind of thinking we should adopt, but the process should have started earlier (in fact we should get used to it from the very beginning of a hand). It prevents us from, in a situation like this, now raising with our absolutely beatable top pair and being up against a well-disguised strong(er) holding, thus wasting us money.
Note that by raising, we are not only possibly walking into a trap, but also hands such as AK have us over the proverbial barrel. Moreover, even if we held AK ourselves a raise would still be foolhardy.
Value bets don’t crop up as often as we might assume, so it’s important to not see phantom opportunities. Essentially, a would-be value bet/raise can so easily end up being a losing one, so beware, and listen out for those internal alarm bells that come with experience (and are heralded by a paired board!).