Concepts: The Value Bet
Definition: The intention of the value bet is toget paid off when we have a strong hand.
According to the above definition, a value bet can only be made if you have a good hand at that precise moment in time. If you make a value bet, you are convinced that you currently have the best hand and you want to get paid off. Here's a classic example to begin with:
- Example 1:
We're holding in early position and raise three times the big blind. All of the players including the small blind fold. The big blind calls. The flop comes . The big blind checks. There are 6.5 big blinds in the pot. We most probably have the best hand. Our opponent has already checked. We want to get paid off with our good hand and therefore make a value bet of approx. four big blinds. The opponent calls.
It is important that we distinguish between the various strategies and bets. A poker player should always know why he is making a bet when and why he bets exactly this or that amount. An inkling that the bet is the right one in this situation is simply not enough. Players who act in this way often have no idea how they want to play their hand in the later rounds of betting. They will more or less wait and see how their opponents will react and only then start thinking about what these reactions could mean.
A serious poker player will however try to assess the situation as accurately as possible and use this assessment to decide how to continue the hand. This is why we need to differentiate the value bet from other similar strategies.
Value bet vs. block bet
The intention behind the value bet is to get as much money into the pot as possible while the block bet aims to keep the pot small.
Value bet vs. continuation bet
The value bet is genuine. It aims to make opponents pay when we are holding a good hand. The continuation bet is often a "simulated" value bet made in the hope that opponents are not willing to call our apparent "value bet", which is in fact a bluff.
Value bet vs. probe bet
Any player who makes a value bet is convinced that he has the best hand, whereas a player who makes a probe bet wants to find out where he stands in a hand.
Value bet vs. slow play
The value bet is a straightforward concept. We have a very good hand and want to get paid off. A lot of players tend to play their good or very good hands slow (see Deception and Slow Play for more information). This may seem like you are mixing up your game, but a player who only plays deceptively is just as predictable as a player who only plays straightforward. The real art of poker is mixing the two styles. The value bet is not only essential as part of your basic strategy, it also has a major advantage over slow playing: Usually only small mistakes occur when making a value bet in a somewhat inappropriate situation whereas slow playing at the wrong time can lead to big mistakes. I will look at situations where the value bet is not the best option at a later stage. Here is another example of a situation in which slow playing would be dangerous:
- Example 2:
We have again in early position and raise three times the big blind. Two players in middle position and the big blind call. The flop comes . The big blind checks. There are 12.5 big blinds in the pot. Even against three opponents we still probably have the best hand and one opponent has already checked.
However, in this situation a slow play would be fatal. With three other players in the pot, a potential flush draw and a potential straight draw, it is imperative that none of the players get to see the next card for free or at little cost. For this reason we should make a pot size bet in this situation. If all of our opponents fold, then we should be glad to take the pot down immediately. If not, we should at least have managed to force out players with dubious draws (e.g. a gutshot straight draw) and have forced players to pay disproportionately for their draws.
Way ahead or way behind (WAWB)
There are situations in which making a value bet is questionable. Here's an example:
- Example 3:
We again have in early position and raise four times the big blind. Two players in middle position and the big blind call the raise. The flop is . The big blind checks. There are 16.5 big blinds in the pot.
There are two options here:
1. One of our opponents has a nine. We would then need a king (or runner-runner) to win, meaning that we have about an 8% probability of winning.
2. None of our opponents has a nine. In this case we have e.g. about an 83% probability of winning against three opponents. (Note: AA and KK were excluded as the opponents would probably have raised pre-flop.)
In these situations we are either "way ahead or way behind". This means that we are either a clear favourite to win the hand due to the structure of the board or we are so far behind that we have little chance of catching up. Although a value bet would be beneficial in most of these situations and would not be a "mistake" in terms of a negative expectation value, there are better strategies better to control the pot and keep it as small as possible (see block bet for more information). The reason for this is quite simple to follow. As we only anticipate two potential scenarios in this example, a value bet in a hand where we are way ahead won't usually get called whereas if we are way behind, we will have to expect a raise or first a call and then a raise during a later round of betting. In such extreme WAWB situations, it is recommended that beginners should avoid making value bets. Check/call or a block bet is often the better alternative. Players should only start using value bets when they have experience in dealing with different types of player and can assess how players will react.
Value bet during later rounds of betting
A value bet is also possible on the turn or river. As was previously the case, we need to be convinced of having the best hand. Here is another example of a value bet during later rounds of betting:
We have in the big blind. It is folded to the cutoff. The cutoff raises four times the big blind. The button and small blind fold and we call. The flop comes . We assume that we have the best hand and make a value bet of half to the size of the pot. The cutoff instacalls. The turn brings the . We make another value bet, this time about two thirds of the pot. The cutoff calls again. The river is the . Now a flush is possible, but our opponent needs a hand such as in order to beat us. At this point we assume the most probable scenario, i.e. that he either has , , or , and therefore make another value bet on the river.
This example demonstrated a classic value bet. In case our opponent made a big raise on the river in the above situation, we would have to consider whether we believe that the opponent has a flush or . However, as long as we think that we are ahead, we should try to mazimize our profit.
We should make a value bet if we are quite sure of having the best hand at that point in time.
We should avoid making a value bet if:
we have a weak hand,
we have an average hand, meaning that we first need to find out where we stand,
the board stucture creates a way ahead or way behind situation,
we have a reason to keep the pot small,
we usually play in a straightforward manner and would like to mix up our game,
the situation and players at that table would make slow play more lucrative.