Value betting

Most tournament players underuse the value bet on the river, but it is crucial if you want to build a stack

Don’t show your cards, rake in the pot and leave your opponent wondering if they were just bluffed out of the pot

I was in seat five at the $ 3,000 no-limit hold’em event at the World Series of Poker when the following hand took place. It wasn’t a very big pot and there was no dramatic river, but the hand told me a lot about the player to my left in seat six.

Shane ‘shaniac’ Schleger is one of many good poker players to come out of New York City. He made the final table at this year’s WSOP in the $1,000 no-limit hold’em event and is widely regarded as a rising star on the circuit with over $700,000 in tournament winnings.

After I folded, Shane raised it up two spots off the button – the blinds were a mere $100/$200 at the time and his raise during this level was a consistent $700. He had already amassed a nice stack and was the early chip leader at the table. Both blinds called and the three of them saw a flop of K-9-4 rainbow. Both blinds checked and Shane checked.

The turn brought a 7 and the small blind led out for $1,400. The big blind folded and Shane called fairly quickly. The river paired the board when a 4 fell. The small blind checked and Shane shuffled his chips. He thought about it for a moment and bet $3,100. This really piqued my interest. What kind of hand would Shane bet here? Was he bluffing? Or did he raise with something like A-4 and catch his trips on the river?

The big blind contemplated his next move before finally tossing in his chips. Nonchalantly Shane turned over K- Q. His opponent frowned in disgust and tossed his cards in the muck. Never doubting he had the best hand, Shane raked in a nice size pot and added chips to his ever- growing stack. I saw Shane as my toughest competition at this table. Most players aren’t capable of making that kind of value bet. They think, ‘What hand could he possibly call me with that I beat?’

Stop giving your opponents credit for being sane. You never know what they might call you with. For the record, the player on the big blind claimed to have K-J. I think it more likely he had a 9. The combination of the confusing check on the flop and the great value bet on the river got Shane paid off.


Value betting is something the best players do, and for a variety of reasons. Many of you will have played a hand that goes something like this: you have A-K in late position and you decide to open raise. The big blind, a fairly straightforward player, calls you. The flop comes out A-Q-4. The big blind checks and you bet. He calls. The turn is an inconsequential 8. The big blind checks to you again. You decide he probably has a weaker Ace than you – why not make him pay to hit his second pair? You bet again and he calls. The river brings a 4 – pairing the bottom card. Once again the big blind taps the table and the action is on you.

The pot is already very large and you’re both rather deep – should you bet the river? You may think there is no point as the pot is big enough already, and what could he call me with? Besides, you don’t want to get check- raised. But in my opinion, this is a must bet. Your original read was that you thought he had a weaker Ace, right?

In limit hold’em it’s an automatic bet, but for some reason players chicken out in no-limit. If he has A-Q, you probably would have heard from him by now. This is the time to really punish your opponent. Don’t give him a free showdown. Bet an amount that will really put him to the test. If you make it look like you don’t want to be called, you just might get that big bet on the river paid off. I’m not saying to over bet the pot – just don’t make it look like a ‘value’ bet.

If you get called, great! You’ve put yourself in a good position to win the tournament. If you don’t get called, that’s fine also. Don’t show your cards, rake in the pot and leave your opponent wondering if they were just bluffed out of the pot.

I play and watch an incredible amount of no-limit hold’em and the more I watch, the more I see the same betting patterns over and over again. Most good, but not great players will only bet the river if they have a huge hand or a bluff. They are not interested in value betting the river with their marginal hands. When you and I play against these types of players, it puts us in a really good spot because when they bet the river, we’re better equipped to either call or fold.


Unless your opponent has been showing extreme strength throughout the hand, you shouldn’t be afraid to put out that final bet on the river even with a marginal hand – but it has to be a bet that will put him to the test

Here’s another scenario to ponder: you peel up your hole cards – K-J. Not your favourite hand by any means, but playable in late position. You reach for your chips and toss in a modest raise. You’re almost hoping nobody calls, but both blinds decide to see the flop.

The dealer deals out the flop, 5-9-J. Both blinds tap the table and the action is on you. You toss in a pot size bet, hoping to win the pot right there. The small blind folds, but the big blind calls. What do you think he has? A weaker Jack? Or maybe a heart draw? Don’t dismiss the straight draw though. Who knows – this guy could be calling with bottom pair.

The turn is the 3. Once again, the big blind checks. You bet again because you don’t want to give him that free card. Your stubborn opponent calls. You really think he probably has the flush draw. He could have a Jack, but would he call twice with a 9 or a 5? The river is kind to you as the 2 hits the felt. Now, what’s your play?

Many players won’t bet this river thinking their opponent probably missed his draw – he can’t call anyway. Why risk getting check-raised?

Wrong! This is the perfect spot for a value bet. If he has a flush draw, he’ll fold and you don’t show your cards. Keep all of your opponents guessing. What happens if he thinks you had the flush draw? If you bet, he might think you’re bluffing and he might just call you with a hand you’d never expect him to have. As for the check-raise from him, forget about it – besides, we don’t play scared poker. I’d talk more about how to deal with the check-raise, but that is an article in itself.

Let’s think of the hands he might have: A-J, Q-J, J-10, Q-10, 10-8, Ace-x of hearts and while we’re on the subject of specifics, maybe even the A-9. Of all these possibilities, only one hand has you beat. If he has Ace- Jack and played it that passively he deserves my chips. You’d be amazed at what players end up calling big bets on the river with. When the pot gets big, people get irrational and end up making big mistakes. Give your opponent the opportunity to make that mistake. You might just get a call from an A-9.


Let’s look at the same situation, but out of position. How will this change your play? On the river, you’ve checked to your opponent with a good, but not great hand. I call it a value check. You’ve essentially induced a bluff and sure enough your opponent bites. He tosses in a big bet, but now you’re not so sure he’s bluffing. If you know that your opponent normally checks down his marginal hands, you know he’s either bluffing or he’s got a monster.

You can replay the hand in your head from start to finish. It’s all a story. There’s a beginning, middle and end. If he has what he’s trying to represent, it will usually make sense. By not betting his marginal hands, he is making it that much easier for you to deduce what he has.

If you think he’s missed his draw and he bluffs at you, don’t forget to call. There is nothing worse than inducing that bluff, getting scared and forgetting to call.

When I commentated for the Million Dollar Cash Game, Roland de Wolfe made this play. He raised with A-8 and flopped an Ace. He bet into a draw heavy board and got called on the flop and the turn. He clearly put his opponent on a draw and checked the river. His adversary thought it over. Bluffing was the only way for him to win the pot so he tried. De Wolfe quickly called him, playing the hand to perfection and showing everyone why he is one of the world’s most feared players.

Some players will claim that there is no point in betting the river unless you can get a better hand out or a weaker hand to pay you off. I say there is value anyway. How about the value of not having to show your cards – leave your opponents guessing. If you’re the kind of player who bets his marginal hands on the river, it’ll be that much harder to figure out where you’re at.

Pin It

Comments are closed.