Value Betting On The River

You hold an Ac-Kh pre-flop in late position. The board checks to you and,as an aggressive player, you make a standard raise. The table folds to the big blind, a loose-passive player, who defends. The flop comes Js-7h-3d. The big blind checks, you bet, the big blind calls. The turn is another brick, the 5c. The big blind checks, you bet and are called again. The river is a Td and once again the big blind checks and you bet around two-thirds of the pot. You are, once again, called. You turn over your unimproved hand and the big blind turns over a 6d-3s revealing bottom pair and he scoops the pot. You think, “Damn, I did it again, bluffing a calling station. You just can’t beat someone who calls bottom pair to showdown.”

Your conclusion that you can’t beat a calling station is simply wrong, although not completely. In small stakes games, many players play far too many hands and see them all the way to the end. It is not unusual to see someone enter a pot with weak holdings and flop bottom or middle pair. Then they call on every street hoping that their opponent is on a bluff. Well, these players can be had. They certainly take away one of your potent weapons in no-limit hold’em, the bluff, but because they are committed to defending their small hand against a bluff they become vulnerable to a completely different line of attack. Many hands that are too weak to bet against tight opponents become much stronger against a player who has lower calling standards and consistently uses the bluff-catching strategy. Simply bet your marginal hands for value on the river.

An Example to Make a Point

You begin with a Kd-9s in late position. The table folds to you and you bet 3x the big blind. You are called by a loose-passive player in the small blind, the big blind folds and you are now heads up against the small blind. The flop comes Jd-6c-4s. The small blind checks and you bet half the pot. The small blind calls. You could put him on a hand like AJ or J6 or J4. He could be holding any jack, any six or any four as well. His call, however, indicates that he likely hit a six or four on the flop. The turn is a 9c putting two clubs on the board. The small blind checks, you bet half the pot and are called. The river is a 2h, no flush and no obvious straights unless the small blind holds a 3-5 which is highly unlikely. Your middle pair has been called on the flop and turn. You can beat any six, any four and you lose to any jack. You also lose to the improbable straight. Your opponent is one who employs a bluff-catching strategy and will raise only with the nuts but will call with any other made hand, even one that is second best. At this point his range of probable hands is really quite limited. Because he never raised you can eliminate his holding a jack, he does not have a set, he could have a broken flush draw with two random clubs in his hand or he could have any six or four unless he bets out on the river. Your marginal pair of nines beats all of that unless he bets on the river. You are reasonably certain that your loose opponent will not call a bet on the river with a four flush. He checks the river. Your correct move against the loose-passive player is to now bet your marginal pair for value. You were called pre-flop, check-called on the flop and turn when you made a standard half the pot sized bet so a continuation bet here is likely to win you this pot. You bet half the pot and are called. You show your pair of nines and your opponent turns over a pair of sixes.

Your value bet will sometimes bet sometimes lose to someone holding an overpair like KK or QQ or even TT and who is fearful of raising without aces. But in the long term your bet for value will earn you significant profit in the long run.

When not to Value Bet

Never bet for value against the loose-passive player without a hand. Bluffing this player is suicide, period. You will be frustrated which is likely to throw you off your game. Don’t do it.

Don’t bet a marginal hand for value against a tight player, whether that player is passive or aggressive. It is likely that your marginal hand is second best and you will lose costing you considerable profits over the long haul.

Don’t bet for value against tricky players. A river check is a better move here.

In all, a bet for value with a marginal hand against a loose-passive player is a blueprint for added profit. Just use it wisely. Never bluff the calling station but you never have to give him too much credit for having a hand either.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come visit us today.

Playing With Big Pairs

You look down at a big pair, aces, kings or queens if you are a semi-tight, aggressive player. Jacks are added to the mix if your style is semi-loose, aggressive. Hooray, you have a premium starting hand. That’s the good news! You are likely the best hand but you aren’t likely to win a huge pot. Not only that but they are often crushed by a baby pair that hits a set on the flop and may spell disaster for a weaker player unable to make a big laydown. Unless the big pair improves on the flop or turn what you have is just one pair and in hold’em a pair, no matter how big, is often second-best.
Factors working against the Big Pair
The big pair is often the best hand pre-flop and continues to hold that status on the flop. Holding aces pre-flop is guaranteed to be best at that moment. If you bet your big pair strongly pre-flop and continue to bet strongly on the flop with an uncoordinated board it is likely that you will not get action, the hand will end and you win a small pot. When the board is highly textured your big pair is vulnerable to being out-drawn by an opponent making a straight or flush. Even if you hit a set you are still second best.

If players are sticking around when you are holding a big pair, warning bells should start to go off in your head. With an uncoordinated board and an unimproved big pair it is likely that your opponent hit a set with a baby or middle pair and has you crushed. You can hope for the miracle two-outer to make your set on the turn but it is probably best to recognize the warning signals and muck your big pair. If an opponent is staying around on the flop or turn with a coordinated board it is time to think about walking away. Your unimproved big pair is just a pair. Unless your opponent is so loose that you are able to discount their hand, it is sometimes wise to fold.
The other day I was playing against an ultra-loose player who saw nearly 80% of the flops and generally stuck around through at least the turn. He was bullying the table and inducing fold after fold with his aggressive betting. I had a QQ on the button. The flop came Q-8-7 rainbow. My opponent was in middle position and min-raised. The table folded to me and I bet around two-thirds the pot. He called. The turn was a brick, the 2h. My opponent went all in. I couldn’t wait to get my money in the pot. He turned over AK offsuit. My big pair improved on the flop and I won a substantial hand with my opponent drawing dead on the turn.

Strategy Pre-Flop

Holding AA, KK, QQ or JJ, it is most certain that you have the best hand pre-flop. I will raise from any position with any of these hands if I am first to act around 80% of the time and slow-play 20% of the time. If I am raised I will reraise or smooth call following the same formula. If I am raising I make it 3x the big blind but if I am re-raising I make it 3x the amount of the original raise. I want to get money in the pot but I don’t want to appear too anxious. These are relatively standard bet sizes. The only reason I will slow-play 20% of the time is to mix up my play so as not to be too predictable.

Post-Flop Strategy

If I hold aces or kings and they are unimproved on the flop I will c-bet 100% of the time. Queens or jacks slow me down just a bit. I use the 80/20 formula here where 80% of the time I c-bet and 20% of the time I check. I am not likely to lay down aces or kings unimproved on the flop. It is still almost certain that I have the best hand at this point. If, however, a tight player plays back at me with unexpected aggression I may lay down queens or jacks but I will see a turn with aces or kings.

If I do not improve on the turn and I am facing continued and unexpected aggression I will consider laying down aces or kings and, if I am still in the hand with unimproved queens or jacks I will most certainly muck. I am unwilling to lay down aces or kings very often because I am still likely holding the best hand. Holding kings I will sometimes, albeit not too often, loose to aces but I am also likely to be facing queens, jacks, AK to AT, also unimproved and a lay down will cost me money. My expected value with aces or kings is positive but begins to diminish dramatically with queens or jacks.

To Limp or Not

Some players like to limp with big pairs. Their argument is that a limp disguises the big pair and they are likely to get more callers in a pot with their limp. The problem with this strategy is that big pairs play better against a single opponent than they do in multi-way pots so raising to isolate is a better move. On the other hand, you might limp from early position with the intent to limp-raise if you are raised by someone in late position. Your limp-raise may have the same effect as an initial raise to isolate, only there is now more money in the pot. This can be an effective strategy if used sparingly. Over used it will become obvious and you will be lucky to get any action with your big pair.

In the end, play big pairs aggressively pre-flop meeting any aggression head on. If your hand is unimproved on the flop, turn or river and your opponent is acting with unusual aggression it may be correct to proceed with caution.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come visit us today.

Post-flop Play: Decisions, Decisions

You decided that your hand pre-flop was playable and you entered the hand in late position. Pre-flop decisions are based on hand strength, position relative to the button, your own range of hands, what you know about your opponents’ hand selection and stack size, both yours and your opponents. Pre-flop decisions are more or less mechanical in the sense that you have very little information from which to proceed. All that you know absolutely is the relative strength of your hand playing from your position. The flop is the place where decisions to continue on or let your hand go are made and these decisions are substantially more difficult for two reasons.

  1. Pre-flop betting provides some valuable information about the hands your opponents are playing based on position and bet size.
  2. You now have either hit a hand or you have not. If you have, your decision rests on the probability of winning with that hand as well as the probability for your hand improving or both.

For these reasons, your decision making process post-flop are far less mechanical, turning toward a more mathematical process. You need to know several pieces of information in order to proceed in an intelligent manner.

  1. The current size of the pot including current wagers made in front of you relative to the bet you must call or the raise you are contemplating.
  2. The potential size of the pot after the round of betting is over.
  3. The price the pot is offering or pot odds.
  4. The probability that your hand will win or will improve enough to win.
  5. The relative strength of your hand when analyzed from both the pure probability of success and the hands your opponents may hold that will beat you at this moment, whether or not your hand improves.

Over the next few posts I will discuss these points in detail. Today I discuss the relative strength of possible hands relative to current strength and the possibility for improvement.

Probability for Success

To my mind the most important decision you can make post-flop turns on whether or not your hand provides enough strength relative to the hands your opponents are likely to hold so that the probability of winning provides you with a positive expectation. There are several factors to consider when analyzing your relative hand strength. The top four are:

  1. The probability that your hand will prevail at showdown if it comes to that.
  2. Your position relative to your opponent’s position.
  3. The texture of the board relative to your hand and the likely hands your opponent may hold based on what you know about his style of play.
  4. Your opponent’s tendencies to defend his hand or to let his hand go when challenged.

A First Look at Situational Probability

There are a number of common situations that occur with enough frequency at the poker table so that one really needs to know some basic probabilities in order to correctly analyze the probability of success. Here are a few of those situations along with the corresponding probabilities both in the form of percentages and positive odds.

Pair v Underpair: An example of the pair v underpair is AA v 44. The aces are favored to win this hand with a success rate of 82% or a 4.6:1 favorite.
Pair v Under Suited Connectors: The example of KK v 78s is a classic example of this match-up. The overpair is favored to win this match-up 77% of the time making the kings a 3.3:1 favorite.
Under pair v Connected Overcards: This is the classic race situation. 77 v AKo is an example of this situation. The pair is a slight favorite winning about 55% of the time, about a 1.2:1 favorite.
Dominated Cards: The example of AJ v A7 demonstrates domination. The dominant ace is a 70% favorite to win at showdown or it is a 2.3:1 favorite.

The Situational Odds Chart provides additional examples of the odds that obtain to specific situations that you are likely to face at the poker table on an ongoing basis. Knowing situational odds goes a long way in making your decisions about continuing or walking away easier. Committing these odds to memory provides you with ammunition with which to proceed in an analytical manner.

The chart takes into consideration only your hole cards playing against your opponent’s hole cards. This information is valuable only when you can safely put your opponent on a range of hands that play in these situations. In order to place you opponent on a range of hands you must observe what hands your opponent shows, how he bets in certain situations and the texture of the board.

Probability that Your Opponent holds a Bigger Pair

Premium pairs play quite well when against one or two opponents but in a multi-way pot with three or more opponents they quickly lose value. Let’s say you have JJ, the probability that a single opponent will have an overpair to your jacks is 67:1, against two players your odds drop to 33:1 against either opponent holding a bigger pair but with four players seeing the flop the odds that an opponent holds a bigger pair drop to 13:1.

If you hold Jh-Js and the flop comes Jc-Ks-Qd your set could be counterfeited by an opponent holding KK or QQ. You would be drawing dead to the case jack. Flops like this are also vulnerable to someone holding A-T but your outs improve if the board pairs, now the case jack, any of the three remaining kings or queens would give you either quads or jacks full…7 outs.

Being aware of the probabilities of facing a larger pair when you are holding a pair in the hole is another piece of information that helps the decision making process along. This information is most valuable when analyzing the texture of the board as a primary consideration along with the range of hands your opponent is likely to play and what he is representing through his betting. Armed with this information, along with your best analysis of your opponent’s strength, you are better able to make the difficult decisions that are required if you choose to stay involved.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come and visit.

Poker And Random Events

For all intents and purposes, cards that are dealt on any independent poker hand are random, are independent of the previous hand dealt and have no influence on the next future hand to be dealt. It is a mistake to look for patterns in independent events. Statistically, there is no such thing as a streak of either great hands or poor hands. Your brain, however, is hard wired to identify patterns from independent occurrences.

We are really good at identifying complex patterns. Facial recognition is one of those pattern buffers that functions well in our brains. We recognize people we know even when we have not seen them for a long period of time and they have changed physically because of age or weight gain, or hair style, or glasses, or a beard, or, well you get the point. On other occasions we tend to recognize patterns that simply are not there. Astrological signs, phases of the moon, speaking of the moon, many people recognize a man’s face in the moon while others see a woodsman gathering sticks and still others see a rabbit all created by the random pummeling of the moon by space debris eons ago. There are completely false patterns that may be created through deception. Medical experiments that use a placebo see cures for people taking the placebo. Game theory experiments can be altered by simply telling one side and not the other about what to expect from the other side whether the information is true or not. These glitches may or may not serve a purpose in life, but at the poker table they may, in fact, cause problems.

If not Patterns, What may I Rely On?

Thinking you can identify patterns and base your action on any given hand based on the identified pattern is a road to ruin. Wait, you say, haven’t you written about observation to recognize patterns in your opponents? Of course I have. People are quite good at inventing a pattern of behavior and acting on the fundamental parameters of that pattern. Human behavior is not random. Dealing two cards, however, is a random act, unless there is cheating at the table.

Pattern identification is really nothing more than expecting that what has occurred in the past is a good predictor for behavior in the present. In human behavior that is a reasonably appropriate approach to understanding what your opponent might do in any given hand they choose to play. Transferring that expectation to cards being dealt is a mistake that will, in the long and short run, cost you money.

What you can, in fact, must rely on when events are random in their very nature is the probability of occurrence will occur rather than reading into the independent act of dealing shuffled cards to players at a poker table a non-existent pattern. Knowing your odds and playing accordingly is simply not an option at the poker table. The odds, for example, of being dealt two specific cards are 220:1 against. That means that once in 221 deals you will be dealt AA. I also know that if I am dealt AA those aces will be cracked about 15% of the time. None of this precludes my being dealt AA two or three times in a row. Each deal is an independent event which is completely independent of past events. No deal carries with it a predictive value that has an influence beyond the influence of probability.

Break Your Pattern Recognition Software

The most profitable thing you can do at the poker table is to break your pattern recognition software or, at the very least, turn it off. You don’t run bad or run good. Everybody but you doesn’t always make a draw. Being dealt KK is not a magnet for your opponent being dealt AA. Each of the hands dealt are the result of a random sequence of events that are independent of every other event. Your two cards are independent of every other two card hands at the table. Unless, for example, you hold AA your hand is susceptible to having a better hand being dealt and depending on what two cards you hold there are probabilities that may be calculated for each random occurrence, period.

Get over your desire to find nonexistent patterns and get on with the program of learning poker odds, probabilities and poker math. You’ll be better off in the long run.

About the Author:
Roger Fischel began playing poker with his friends in high school. Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw were the games of choice back then. Over the years, Roger turned to Texas Hold ‘em as his game of choice. During a long career as a teacher, Roger learned the value of sharing what he knows with others as a way to give back to the community in which he shares, thus, Rags to the River Poker was born. Come and visit.

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