Mike Caro poker word is Conditions

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.

Three months ago I shared a big secret about value betting. Value betting is the act of pushing your hand for every extra penny of profit through aggressive wagering. We discovered that you should only do it when you have psychological dominance over your opponents.

When you’re losing or you when haven’t established leverage over the table, that’s a poor time to value bet. At those times, opponents are more deceptive and you can’t count on getting calls borne of confusion – one of the ingredients that makes value bets profitable. Also, at those times, opponents dance around dangerously, pushing their own hands for maximum value. Their aggressive raises also make your value bets less effective.

Today, we’re going to move along to another lecture I gave years ago on the topic. As we dig deeper, we’ll discover the definitive conditions required to make value betting work for you. Listen.

Do your value betting at the right time

Value betting is one of the most profitable and most costly weapons in poker. You heard me. I said it right. Value betting is one of the most profitable and most costly weapons in poker.

I hear you wondering, how can something be the most profitable and the most costly at the same time? It can’t. And that’s the point. You need to value bet at the right times. If you do, you’ll make a lot of profit. I you value bet at the wrong times, you’ll lose a lot of money.

On balance, players who don’t know when to value bet and for what reasons lose money overall, because their gains when they guess right are overwhelmed by their losses when they guess wrong. For that reason, many players would be much better off if they didn’t value bet at all.

So, what do I mean by value bet? The term means different things to different people. One definition is that a bet has value because it can be effective in more than one way. For instance, a bet may succeed in chasing the potentially winning hand out of the pot, or it might get a call from a weak opponent, or it might confuse your opponent. But those multi-purpose bets are what I call utility bets. Value bets, to me, are different. Value bets are ones where you’re trying to extract every penny of profit by taking maximum advantage and not letting your opponents skate for free.

Playfulness and power

People learn to value bet and they get excited. It gives them a sense of playfulness and a sense of power. They’re stretching the limits, they’re in action, they’re enhancing their image. It can get to be addictive, value betting can. But there’s great danger. If you take these hands that can normally be bet for small extra profit or checked safely and begin to bet at the wrong times, you’re not getting extra profit, you’re often killing your chances of making any profit.

The wrong times to value bet are when your image isn’t controlling, because you’re not winning or the cards haven’t yet given you the opportunity to assert yourself and make opponents want to stay out of your way. So, if the psychological atmosphere at the table is such that you’re a target, don’t value bet. You’ll get raised when your opponents have small edges, instead of you, and your attempts to bet aggressively will backfire and cost you more on balance. Only when your opponents are somewhat intimidated and will not push their small edges is it safe to value bet. And the particular opponents you’re value betting into must not be tricky. When opponents are tricky, they’ll set you up by just calling with very strong hands or by raising unexpectedly to press edges or even to bluff when you might fold incorrectly. This gives them the advantage when you make these daring value bets, instead of giving you the advantage.

The right times to value bet are when your image is good and controlling, your opponents are passive and unlikely to assert themselves by raising with small edges, and those same opponents are not especially deceptive. That’s the time to value bet, and usually only then.

But all this applies to my definition of a value bet. That’s value betting defined as being done with a borderline hand under typical circumstances that you can bet for value. Those circumstances make betting attractive right now, but not always. That means, when I’m talking about value betting, I’m speaking as if the value bet is a fixed entity – a for-certain hand in a for-certain situation whose real strength is determined by other factors, such as how loose your opponents are and how they perceive you.

Sometimes worth pushing

That’s what I mean by a value bet. The term applies to a specific, for-certain hand that is sometimes worth pushing for value and sometimes not, as the circumstances change. You could, instead, change the descriptions of the hands that are considered for value betting. For instance, I consider world champion and Poker Hall of Famer Doyle Brunson a tricky, aggressive, world-class opponent – and everyone agrees. So, I wouldn’t usually value bet into him with the hands I would describe as being value bet candidates for typical situations.

But, conceptually, there can be a value bet for any type of player, including Doyle, and for any type of circumstance. It’s just that against sophisticated and trick opponents, the hands you value bet need to be much more powerful. So, it’s important for you to understand that when I tell you that you should value bet in some situations and not in others, I’m talking about a pre-defined set of hands in a pre-defined set of circumstances. By using a more flexible definition, it’s always OK to value bet, despite the fact that you are doing it with hands that would normally be outside the range of the borderline ones we’re talking about.

When I talk about value betting, I’m talking about hands that are just good enough to bet for extra profit under the right conditions. I’m talking about when to value bet with hands that, in typical situations, would be just slightly better than break even.

The questions

So, what you need to ask yourself is:

  1. Is this a betting situation that would normally be about break-even or a little better, meaning it wouldn’t usually matter much whether I bet or didn’t bet?
  2. Are my opponents who are still active in this pot passive and not deceptive?
  3. Are my opponents who are still active in this pot more likely to call than most opponents.

If those three conditions are true, you should often value bet. Why not always? Because you don’t want to go to the well too often with value bets or your more astute opponents will catch on and adjust their strategies in ways that might make value betting unprofitable.

But, if those three conditions are not true, you probably don’t have a situation in which you should consider a value bet. That doesn’t mean you should never bet. Your hand might be too strong to meet the value bet definition, and then you will be considering whether to bet out or to check-raise. So, again: When you can’t quite figure out whether or not to value bet, here’s the right time to do it.

The right time

  1. The hand you hold is marginally strong for the situation and either a bet or a check would seem reasonable to most experienced players holding your same hand.
  2. The opponents you’re about to bet into are passive and not especially tricky.
  3. The opponents you’re about to bet into are more likely to call than most opponents.

If all three of those conditions are true, bet much of the time, but check sometimes to throw your opponents off-guard. If all three of those conditions aren’t true, and your hand is not especially powerful or worth bluffing with, you should decide to check. Without those three elements being true, you’re costing yourself money by betting those normally just-better-than borderline hands. So, save yourself money and don’t bet them unless you’re against relatively passive and non-deceptive opponents who are more likely to call right now than typical opponents would be.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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