Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
If you want to get a casual poker player confused in a hurry, just talk about “value betting.” There isn’t even a universal definition of what it means, so you’re free to make up your own. Here’s mine: A value bet is a risky wager designed to extract every penny’s worth of profit from opponents.
In other words, when you value bet, you’re pressing the limits of aggression and reaching toward the gray area of profit, beyond which bets begin to lose money. Often the goal of value bets is unclear. They sometimes work not for a single reason, but for a combination of reasons. Win extra money. Secure the pot by chasing opponents out. Set the stage for profitable betting or checking later in the hand by misleading opponents now. As you’ll hear in the following lecture, some folks call that sort of multi-purpose bet a value bet. But, usually, I call that simply a utility bet.
In general, you value bet because you believe your hand is slightly better than your opponents. The more poker skill you acquire, the more you grasp when you really do have an edge and when you don’t, and the more profitably and more often you can value bet.
If you’re still not sure what a value bet is, listen. You know you’re value betting when you’re pretty sure most other players would have checked the same medium-strong hand in the same situation. Fine. But, you really haven’t mastered the art of value betting until doing it feels comfortable to you, rather than uncomfortable.
What follows is the text of an audio lecture I delivered years ago on this topic.
The big secret to value betting
When you’re just starting out in poker, value betting is the last thing on your mind. You look at your hands and you think, I’ve probably got the winner, so I’ll bet; or I’m probably beat, so I’ll check; or I’m probably beat, so I’ll try to bluff. You don’t think, well, this is really close, but I’ll bet anyway, because I know my opponent probably won’t raise, but will probably call, and I’ll make a tiny bit more money than I would if I checked.
See, that’s value betting – at least by my definition. To others, value betting means making a bet because it has several ways of succeeding – it might be deceptive in a way you can capitalize on later in the hand, it might chase out a stronger hand, or it might win a call from a weaker hand. But that’s not what I mean by value bet. I call that multi-purpose bet a utility bet, and we’ll talk about it some other time.
To me, a value bet is simply a bet by a knowledgeable player who’s pursuing every penny of profit. The player has a slight advantage and wants to exploit it by betting. Value bets are usually made with marginally strong hands. They win a dollar here, a few cents here, and, two dollars there. But, all totaled, they increase your profit so much and so quickly it will make your head spin.
So, there’s no doubt that you should often bet those hands into opponents and exploit small advantages. But, wait! The truth is that most serious players, even professional players don’t make much money with their value bets. Now I’m going to tell you why.
They don’t make much money value betting because they don’t do it at the right times. Here’s the trick. Even the same hand, in the same situation, against the same opponents should sometimes be bet and sometimes not. But, I’m not talking about randomizing. I’m talking about something much more important.
The times you should value bet are when you have psychological control of the table. Usually, that’s when you’ve been winning. When you’re winning, opponents are gun shy. They’re afraid to challenge you, and they won’t go out of their way to maximize their profit by making daring raises with small advantages. They’ll call more in frustration, but raise less. In general, when you’re conspicuously winning, your opponents are most likely to become exactly the types of players who are most profitable to you – players who call too often when they’re at a disadvantage and don’t raise as much when they have an advantage.
Against that type of player, it’s always OK to value bet, and your value bets succeed, and your profits stack up.
But, if you’re losing, your value bets are likely to backfire. Opponents can notice that you’re losing and become inspired. Instead of having a defeatist attitude against you, they feel confident. They’re apt to raise with small advantages, costing you money when you try to value bet. For this simple and powerful reason, all those value bets that added greatly to your stack when you were winning are likely to cost you money when you’re losing.
You need to adapt. When you have psychological control of the table, usually because you’re winning, go ahead and bet your hands that appear to have small advantages. But when you’re not in control, when your opponents have seen you losing and are inspired, check those same hands. You don’t have the advantage you think you have.
So, value bet when you’re winning. Don’t value bet when you’re losing. This easy strategic adjustment will save regular medium-limit players thousands of dollars every year. Here it is again: Value bet when you’re winning or you have psychological control of your opponents. Check those same hands when you’re losing or don’t have psychological control. Value bet borderline hands when winning; check the same hands when losing.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC