How do you play poker in a recession? Read our experts guide to great value poker

Nick Wealthall has become obsessed with value. Only instead of shopping for bargain meals he’s trying to eke out every last bet at the poker tables

There’s a recession on. I know this because people with the title of ‘economics expert’ told me so on the news. To be honest, though, if they hadn’t kept me abreast of this financial meltdown, it would be tricky to know. I mean, the sun still shines (sometimes) and trains are still late – things don’t seem that different. If you live in a poker bubble it’s hard to tell. In fact, for a lot of poker players, World War III could start and they wouldn’t know unless it affects their internet connection.

Anyway, one thing that I’ve noticed as a result of this recession is that people have suddenly become obsessed with value. Every major pub chain now has a four-course meal with wine pairing for £3.95. But it gets worse – even Waitrose has got a value range! The apocalypse is truly upon us.

For poker players, of course, an obsession with value isn’t a new thing. In fact it’s one of the ways you can easily separate really good players from the rest. Most players are obsessed with big pots they’ve lost, bad beats they’ve taken, or calls that were wrong. But really good players become obsessed – even angry about – value they’ve failed to extract when missing bets or not betting enough. And now I’ve decided – in a transparent effort to seem like a really good player – to also become obsessed with value.

Price Is Right

When trying to explain to people who don’t play why poker is definitely not gambling, I always end up using the phrase ‘good players win more with their good cards and lose less with their bad’. While there may not be a recession in poker the games have definitely got tougher and winning more with your good cards has never been more important. It’s not just about betting when you can check, it’s also vital to bet the maximum that your villain will call. Often players worry about betting too much and ‘pricing opponents out’ when a lot of times people will only think about calling or folding. I call it the ‘Gucci moron’ price structure, on the basis that if people want to buy a designer bag they’ll buy it regardless of the price. Notice the adroitness with which I use the world ‘people’ thereby avoiding any accusations of misogyny. (Having said that what right-thinking man would ever spend more than about £20 for something to put other things in?)

Before I started focusing on value I was definitely missing too many bets and under-sizing some bets. However, I’ve started to notice big improvements in this part of my game. A few nights ago I played a session where I extracted the maximum on a few occasions. I found myself in one hand against a weaker player who played his hands in a totally transparent way. If he check-called he was drawing or had a marginal hand, if he bet out he had a good hand, and if he check-raised you better have quads or run for the hills, it was that simple.

Value Town

In one hand heads-up with him I held A-Q and flopped top pair on a Q-9-4 flop with two hearts. He checked, I bet and he called. The turn was the 6c. Again he checked, I bet and he called. I was putting him squarely on either a draw, a weak Queen or maybe a strong nine – he never has anything else. The river was a distinctly unhelpful 2h and he checked.

My first instinct was to check behind as he could have the flush, and if he didn’t it still kills my action. But then I realised that if this guy had hit the flush he would always bet. Always. He would never take the risk that I would check behind. In fact my hand is still well ahead of his range because he never plays a better hand this way. If I checked behind against this opponent in this spot I would literally be leaving money on the table. Yes, he’ll fold a lot, but if he ever calls I’ll have made a big mistake. So I made a big bet – nearly pot. After all, he doesn’t look at the size of the bet, only about whether to call or fold. He thought and eventually called with K-Q, which is exactly what he’s supposed to have, and I stuck another gold star on my ‘times I’ve extracted the maximum’ wall chart.

From now on I implore you to go out and get value. Squeeze players for every penny – it’s your duty, there’s a recession on.

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