AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 23.06.2021 · last updated 23.06.2021

When we take the first steps on our poker quest, the cards we’re dealt assume almost obsessive importance to the point that we barely take into account other – even basic, fundamental – factors such as position. Ironically, as our understanding of the game gradually becomes less unsophisticated, there’s a tendency to go the other way, and get so bogged down with the other stuff that we in fact fail to properly assess the relative value(s) of our hands.

This is highlighted in many players’ difficulty making the distinction between actual hand value and showdown value. It’s important that we appreciate that these two values can be quite different. Both can change as a hand progresses from street to street, but how they evolve can be quite different due to the considerations we must make when evaluating the latter.

It helps if we can learn to contemplate the opposition’s ranges (and frequencies) right from the beginning of a hand, how that might determine how players will continue through the betting stages and, in turn, what will be the strength of the hands they’ll hold relative to ours.

Looking at this with Showdown Value in mind is a key part of a player’s armory. First, let’s briefly remind ourselves of the (post-flop) value bet, which is when we bet ‘for value’ when we are ahead of the range with which an opponent will continue. In other, when we hold the best hand, we’re looking to maximize profit by making value bets.

Showdown Value doesn’t work in the same way. Essentially, this comes into play when we actually have a decent, made hand which we wouldn’t bet as a bluff, but which isn’t strong enough to justify making a value bet. Instead, there’s another scenario, which is the showdown, where we might well emerge as having the best hand. What often happens is that we arrive at the River and need to decide how we will approach this last stage of the fight for the pot. A vulnerable or weak(er) hand might elicit a bluff, while with a strong hand we could bet for value, but ‘just’ a decent hand often merits neither a bluff nor a value bet, and what often happens is that it will be checked by both players for a showdown. And this is where we need to get used to thinking about Showdown Value, that there’s not a sufficiently compelling reason to bluff or (value) bet, but we could nevertheless be strong enough to win the showdown.

To be able to make a reasonably reliable assessment of our hand’s Showdown Value we need to tune in to the opposition’s range. And this is where ‘situational’ poker rears its head because it’s all relative. Different players approach the game – and this or that situation – in different ways. We might deduce that Player A has a range that sees them play one way, but Player B, on the other hand, would take another approach. This could mean that in one situation we will be nearer to executing a value bet play, for example, while with the other the logical course would be to go to a showdown – we have exactly the same hand, but depending on key factors (and our interpretation of them) we would concentrate on actual value or Showdown Value. It’s all relative.

Here’s an example. We’re on the Button with A K, an early position player raises, we 3-bet and it’s called, and everyone else steps aside. The Flop brings a nice K♥ Q♠ 8♦ and it’ checked to us. If our opponent had thrown in a pre-flop raise and subsequently called our 3-bet with a range of TT+/AK, and they are averagely nitty, would they now continue with Tens or Jacks? And would they ever fold better hands? The answers are No and No, meaning a bet isn’t justified in this situation, so we’d be thinking more in terms of Showdown Value.

Generally, against such players we tend to err on the side of Showdown Value, opting to check-call if necessary rather than making unwarranted bets. Meanwhile, against weaker players prone to calling too liberally we should try to put in value bets. Typical hands that lead to such decisions are single pairs, for example.

Clearly, the better we get at hand-reading, the more we can appreciate the relevance (or otherwise) of Showdown Value. It might seem like a negative approach, but it’s a necessary, prudent option that’s often better than betting without sufficient reason.

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