What is Value Betting in Poker and Why is It Important?
Value betting is simply the act of making a bet when you have the best hand. It is usually pretty easy to tell when you are ahead in poker. You have a strong hand such as top pair and your opponent is just calling. Your opponent probably has a draw or perhaps some worse made hand that he is hanging on with. If your opponent is a recreational player then he could be calling you with anything including no pair/no draw hands. It is even easier at the micros to know where you stand because most players are extremely passive. When they raise you on the big money streets in particular (turn and river) they are very often letting you know that you are behind.
Value betting is extremely important in poker because as you may have noticed by now it is really frigging hard to make a hand like top pair or better! You need to be getting the maximum value out of them when you do. Also, many of your opponents (especially at the lower end of the micros, NL2, NL5 and NL10) are incapable of folding. They are literally begging to call you with whatever junk they happen to have. You need to give them the opportunity to do just that.
One of the biggest ways that people shoot themselves in the foot at these stakes is by thinking that pots will magically build themselves. This is not going to happen in most cases because extremely passive players don't like to bet without a big hand. They will call you down all day but if you give them the opportunity to check with their middle pair, gutshot or queen high they will usually take it. Therefore, please remember this: If you want to win a big pot at the micros you almost always need to build it yourself. Let's look at a couple of common value betting scenarios at the micros versus bad players.
NL2 Full Ring
Villain is a 26/7/2 SLP (semi-loose passive) with a 30% WTSD (went to showdown).
Villain limps from UTG+1
Hero raises from the CO with K♥J♠
The flop comes,
First off this should definitely be a standard preflop raise. I don't want to get into a deep discussion of preflop strategy in this article but as I have discussed many times before you should be isolating bad players like this frequently and especially when in position. We actually have a reasonable hand in this example. I would isolate this player with far worse here, half the deck for sure.
So we flop top pair, now what? Well again, this should be a fairly straight forward CBet after the villain checks. As I noted above it is important to build the pot at these limits and not expect a passive fish like this to do it for you. Checking back here to be "tricky" is a huge mistake at these limits. You don't need to balance anything against a player like this whose only concern is his own two cards and what he thinks of them. Just value bet 100% of the time here.
I also don't want to get into a big discussion of bet sizing in this article. When value betting versus a recreational player it should almost always be 75% of the pot or more. Check out a recent article of mine for more on optimal bet size amounts at these stakes.
The turn comes,
This isn't the greatest turn card in the deck. It completes a few draws such as 97 and Q9 and perhaps makes a few two pairs such as T8 or JT. However, we always need to remember that these hands only represent a small portion of this player's overall range. He has plenty of other hands that we beat and he would love to call a bet with them. These include, T9, QJ, QT, J9, A8, K8, Q8, 98, 87, 99 and any two diamonds. I think I am being conservative here. With a bad player like this there definitely could be more hands added to this list.
The river comes,
Once again the river isn't the best card in the deck for us because it completes the flush but it certainly isn't the worst card either. A lot of regs at the micros will freeze up here though and choose to just check behind for the showdown. This is a major mistake. You are throwing away EV (expected value) by not making a value bet here. Remember that villain can still have any of those one pair hands that we listed above on the turn. And what do SLP fish with a 30% WTSD like to do? Call of course.
Please don't worry about being check/raised in this spot either. If the opponent here check/raises us we are folding 100% of the time. Why? Because passive players at the micros do not check/raise the river without the nuts. Most regs today at the lower end of the micros are still not making the bet on the end here. Don't throw away easy money like this. Always value bet here.
Villain is a 52/12/2 Whale with a 34% WTSD with a 0% Fold to 3Bet.
Villain raises from the CO
Hero 3Bets on the BTN with 9♣9♠
The flop comes,
It is certainly not a crime to just flat preflop here and maybe let some other bad players in. However, since we have a pretty strong hand in position against a fish who doesn't fold anything I would prefer to just juice up the pot here a little bit. Once again on the flop this is not the time to be getting tricky. Yes there is one overcard but there are simply so many hands that a bad player like this will continue with including ace high.
The turn comes,
The turn isn't the best card in the deck but it is not the worst either. While it is another overcard to our pair it does seem odd why somebody would ever have a queen in their hand here though. However, you should never put something like that past a huge whale like this. We know that a player like this could have easily floated the flop out of position with plenty of no pair/no draw hands which may have a queen in them.
Since this is a 3Bet pot I would recommend just checking behind here in order to prevent the size of the pot from getting out of control. The biggest reason why is because we don't really have a lot to gain by betting here. Villain will likely fold all of the made hands that we beat because it is starting to get really expensive for him to continue. Conversely, he will happily call along with all of his made hands that beat us and any of the few draws available on this board. Therefore, betting again here is mostly a lose/lose situation for us because we can't get much action from worse hands and we simply build a bigger pot for hands that have us crushed.
The river comes,
This is a classic thin value bet spot. We need to be betting for value here. This hand is similar in many ways to the last one because a passive bad opponent has checked to us on the river. This typically indicates weakness. And as we mentioned before, if he does happen to be sandbagging something big he will let us know and it will be the easiest fold in the world.
Something that I like to mention with regards to thin value betting is that you should be getting looked up from time to time by better hands. If you make a bet here and a recreational player calls and flips over something silly from time to time like QJ or T8 you shouldn't feel like you made a bad play. If you are not getting looked up by better hands like this on occasion then this should be cause for concern. This is because it is likely that you are not making enough thin value bets. If on the other hand you are frequently getting looked up by better hands then you are probably value betting too thin.
Always remember that these value bets on the river can make a huge difference to your winrate in the long run because they are often for significant amounts like 20bb. If you miss just one of these opportunities every thousand hands a little simple math tells us that you have just thrown away 2bb/100 in EV. This is an absolutely massive amount in today's games. Don't be like all of the other bad regs in these games and check back without thinking in spots like this.
I hope this article helps some of you struggling to make your mark at the lowest limits. If you aren't having the success that you want right now you should go back to the very basics of this game and ask yourself if you are getting the maximum value from the recreational players. Always remember that they are the entire reason why we play this game. You should always be making them pay the maximum.
If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!