Value Betting 101: When and When Not to Do It

Value betting is risky but rewarding. (Image: lq1.fr)

The hardest part of poker is the most important. That’s why the ballsiest players end up winning the most. Being a successful value bettor will be the difference between being a break even player and a winner.

What is value betting? A bet on the river that maximizes the amount of chips won in the hand. Your goal in any hand is to win the most money possible. Poker players miss out on opportunities to acquire more chips far too often.

The Prime Example

Let’s say you’re in a $1-$2 No-Limit Hold’em game and pick up pocket aces. You raise to $8 and get two callers. The flop is 2s-3s-9h which is a great flop for you. The small blind checks, you bet $16 and he calls, the other player folds. The 9s hits on the turn. He checks and you fire away $25 to find out if he has a 9 or a flush. He just calls. The 2c flips over on the river.

He checks it to you again. You’re in a bit of a tough spot here. Your aces don’t look quite as strong now because there are two pairs on the board and also a potential flush out there. Should you go the safe route and check it back? The answer is no.

You should go for value in this spot every single time, unless you’ve seen your opponent take this line with a monster hand in similar hands. There are only four hands you’re worried about (a 9, a 2, pocket 3’s, and a flush). What are the odds he has one of those hands given his line? Very slim.

A player isn’t likely to check-call down to the river and then check the river again with a monster. This is usually a player trying to keep the pot small with a vulnerable hand. If your opponent did have a 9, they would have bet out on the river, probably a big bet. The same can be said for a deuce and maybe even a flush.

Your opponent has far more hands he will call a bet with that you can beat than hands that have you beat. He could have virtually any pocket pairs ranging from 4’s to J’s. If he had Q’s or K’s, he likely would have three-bet you pre-flop. He could also have a 3 here as well and might call off a value bet.

How much should you bet? A little less than half the pot. You don’t want to bet too much to scare off his weaker hands or to find out he has a flush. There’s $106 in the pot, so a bet of $40-$50 is about right.

Having the balls to make this bet on the river is what sets winning and break-even players apart. There will be times where your opponent doesn’t call your river bet. So what? You still won the hand. You just didn’t win more than what was already in the pot. If you don’t make the bet and he flips over a pocket pair, you’ll be kicking yourself. That’s $50 more you could have won.

Sure, $50 in the grand scheme of things doesn’t seem like much. You can’t retire on an extra $50. But, over time, this will add up to a lot of money. Don’t let opportunities like this slip away.

When You Shouldn’t Value Bet

There are certain times where a value bet is a terrible idea. When your hand has showdown value but you can’t beat a call, it’s usually best to just check. The exception is if you think you feel your opponent has you beat but would fold the hand if you bet. Here’s an example:

You’re dealt pocket 3’s and your opponent has KJ. The flop is J-4-9. You bet out the flop to see if your pair is good. He calls and you become suspicious he has a 9 or a J. The turn is a Q. You check the turn and so does your opponent. At this point, your opponent will probably put you on ace-high. The A comes on the river and doesn’t improve either hand.

He checks to you and you’re left with a decision to make. Do you bet it and represent an A or just check it back and hope your 3’s are good? Unless he has an A, it’s going to be hard for him to call. And what are the odds your 3’s are good? Not very high. There’s a small chance he has a Q and would likely call a bet in that spot. But what you’re mostly worried about is an A. If he has a J, the chances are pretty good you’ll get him to fold if you bet enough. Now let’s take a look at a scenario in which you should NEVER value bet:

You open under-the-gun with 88 to $8 in a $1-$2 No-Limit Hold’em game. You receive three callers. The flop is J-4-7. That’s not a horrible flop for you. The small blind checks, you fire out a bet of $15 to find out where you’re at. The small blind calls and everyone else folds.

The turn is another 7. The small blind checks and you bet out $20 again. He calls. The river is a Q. He checks it to you. The only hand you can beat that your opponent would even consider making a call in this spot is A4 or maybe pocket 5’s and 6’s. But even those hands are likely to call off another bet.

So, if you make a bet and he calls, the chances are pretty good you’re beat. But you still have a chance to win your hand in a showdown. There’s no value in betting this hand because you probably won’t get a call from a hand that doesn’t beat you. A bet here isn’t a value bet, it’s a stupid bet.

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