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Starting Hands Revealed
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Value betting, in particular at the river, is a very important concept in hold'em poker. It can make the difference between a losing and a winning player. For example, if one player manages to improve his value betting by making an additional profit of 4 big blinds in one hand every 100 hands, then his overall win ratio could increase from -1bb/100 to +3bb/100.
Value betting means that hero is in a situation where he is pretty certain to have the better hand, but villain has nevertheless a good hand. For example if hero holds Q♥ Q♦, villain makes a standard raise preflop, hero calls. Flops comes J♥8♦ 5♣, villain makes a 50% pot continuation bet, hero calls. Turn is 3♠, villain makes another half pot bet and hero calls. River is 2♣, and villain checks.
Hero suspects that villain holds at most an ace, probably AJ, because he raised preflop from middle position, then bet twice. If he had an overpair or better, he would definitively have bet the river, as he is a straightforward player rarely attempting fancy plays, like a check raise at the river with a big hand. So hero decides to make a small 40% pot bet of about 14 bb, villain calls and shows A♣J♠.
What is value betting in poker?
Value betting consists in determining the highest possible bet that villain will call with the second best hand, i.e. it is the problem of extracting the maximal value from the hand. Betting less would leave money on the table whereas betting more will induce a fold and leave even more money on the table.
Value betting depends very much on your hand reading skills, and if faced with a check-raise, hero usually must fold. This is why value betting is such an art only mastered after playing many hands as it is based on your ability to find this threshold that depends on each opponent, while correctly assessing the risk of being beaten or raised.
As the poker saying goes, "the river is what separates the pros from the amateurs". Many novice or intermediate players avoid betting the river aggressively unless they have a monster. They tend to check their middle strength hands, and when they make a very large bet at the river, it usually means either the nuts or a bluff with air or a missed draw.
One psychological reason for their timidity is that they are scared of a raise, or a raise allin. Because by the river, pots are the largest, it can be very costly to call such a raise. These events are rare, but psychologically they make a deep mark in our mind because of the associated trauma that occured when such hand took place.
Having the courage to value bet more aggressively at the river is the mark of poker stars. Yes, sometimes you will face difficult decisions when challenged with a big raise. But the benefit of all the extra value from weaker hands calling you, as well as your more aggressive table image, will more than compensate for the occasional coolers.