No Limit Poker: When a Value Bet is a Loser

Published by AngusD on

‘Value’ is often used in poker and, being such a sensible sounding word, tends to be incorrectly assigned to situations where ‘caution’ might be a more prudent subject matter. A very common example of this is when players, believing they have the best hand against a lone opponent, attempt to extract the maximum from a hand in which they have been making the running by raising the river for value.

Of course such a strategy may well add a few extra chips to the coffers but, alas, doing this kind of thing can be a recipe for disaster. Apart from laying ourselves open to a massive bet (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 difference between value and a good old common sense slice of caution – a distinction that we come 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 comes Ac 8d 5s, giving us top pair with an attractive looking kicker, a backdoor flush draw and, of course, we have the advantage of position. It’s checked around to us and we make a pot-sized bet which is called only by the big blind.

The turn throws up the 3d, which is both pretty innocuous and not exactly unwelcome as we now have a nut flush draw to add to our collection. The BB checks once again and, perhaps buoyed by the turn, we make another pot-sized bet which, again, is called. It’s by no means clear what our opponent is holding (maybe a flush draw), which is more troubling than we might assume because poker is all about information, and it can be more convenient to know we’re up against a strong hand than a complete unknown.

The river is the 5c and, breaking the rhythm of the pattern of play thus far, the BB bets around a quarter of the pot. If it was a – now unfulfilled – flush draw, this could be an attempted steal against our possible, albeit unlikely bluff. Alternatively, we might have been up against a poorly played pair of tens or even 8 9. 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 called by a holding like 8 5, thus wasting money. The possible hands we’ve just considered wouldn’t be calling a raise, and there’s a chance we could even finding ourselves calling a crafty re-raise here. Note that by raising we are also walking into hands such as AK. Moreover, even if we held AK ourselves a raise would still be foolhardy.

Essentially, a would-be value bet can end up being a losing bet, so beware, and listen out for those internal alarm bells that come with experience (and are heralded by a paired board!)

Good luck at the tables!

Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador

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