Pro concepts: Thin value betting

Ross Jarvis shows you how to use thin value betting in your game and maximise your winnings when you have the best hand

Value-betting is one of the most fundamental skills in poker. As everyone knows, big hands don’t come around that often, and it’s crucial you get the maximum value possible from them if you want to be a big winner. However, it’s easy to make a value bet when you know you have the best hand and only need to worry about getting paid. The next level up from this is being able to value-bet marginal hands, like second pair and even Ace-high, and get paid off by worse.

A thin value bet is a bet made when you have a marginal hand, but one which you think still beats your opponent’s hand a high percentage of the time. Thin value betting requires good hand-reading skills, but is a dangerous weapon to have in both cash games and tournaments.

If an opponent knows you don’t value-bet thinly then your river bets are going to be extremely polarised to either the nuts or a bluff, which makes you incredibly easy to play against. For example, say you make a big bet on the river of a K♣-T-2♠-3-8♠ board. If you never make thin value bets, your opponent can safely assume you’d check back all marginal hands such as Q-Q or J-T, so the only value hands in your range are sets and two pair. As a result, he can put you on a missed draw and call much more lightly with hands like A-T, 9-9 and even 8-9. While these may look like hero calls, all three hands hold the same basic value because of how polarised your betting range is.

However, now let’s imagine you are an advanced player who is capable of value-betting those additional marginal hands on this board. Your opponent now has a much tougher decision. You can get thin value from the hands he would have called you with before and your bluffs will also get through with a much higher frequency, as he knows you are capable of betting thinly for value on the river.

Incorporating thin value-betting into your game not only brings extra value but makes you much more unpredictable and tougher to play against.

The value targets

Whether you’re playing in a cash game or a tournament, there are two specific types of opponent that you should be looking to make thin value bets against. The first is quite obvious: calling stations. As their name implies, this species of fish is defined by the fatal characteristic of calling too much. Therefore, two simple conclusions become clear. The first is that you should rarely try to bluff this type of player, and the second is that you absolutely must pound this opponent over and over again with thin value bets.

Let’s look at a very simple example of a thin value bet which almost always works against a calling station. You have J-J and have been check-called on the turn and river of a T♣-5♣-9-6♠ board. The river is the A. Against many players it would be prudent to check behind here and hope your Jacks are still good in what will be a fairly large pot. But against a calling station you are probably still going to get a call from hands like a Ten that he was calling you down with until now. While the Ace hits a few hands in his range (such as A-T and the nut flush draw) there are many others for which it changes nothing.

If you sense there is even a small chance he will call with a losing hand, it is worth betting to try and get that extra value. You don’t have to think much against this player type. Simply, if you put them on a hand range that is weaker than your actual hand then you can safely bet and often expect to be called by worse.

The second player type you want to target is not immediately obvious, and that is the good thinking player. Using the same example of holding J-J with an Ace on the river, a thinking player is equally as likely to call with a worse hand. This is because they view the Ace as a good card for you to represent and bluff at (which it is), giving them more reason to call you down light.

It’s important whenever you are making a thin value bet for it to look like you could be bluffing. So instead of slowing down when scare cards come, you should often just go ahead and keep on betting for value. As long as your opponent has seen that you are capable of bluffing these cards in the past, he is going to have more reason to call you down light.

Value-owning yourself

The major drawback to thin value-betting is that you can value-cut yourself. What this means is that you make what you assume is a value bet, only to get called by a better hand. While this is always frustrating, it’s also a necessary byproduct of being a good value-bettor. It’s comparable to tennis, where a player is said not to be pushing his second serve enough if he doesn’t have at least a few double faults in a match.

If you aren’t occasionally value-cutting yourself then you aren’t value-betting thinly enough. There are ways in which you can try to reduce the times you value-cut yourself though. The easiest way is to adjust to different opponents. Let’s say you’re on the river of an A♣-J♠-9-5♣-K♠ board with A-T.

You’ve been check-called on both the flop and turn by a fairly tight opponent and are deciding whether to go for some thin value on the river. In this case, you should just check back instead. It’s going to be very hard for a tight player to find a call with a worse Ace on three streets. Instead, when you get called here you’re likely to be up against two pair or A-Q. If this were a calling station instead, a value bet on the river would make more sense.

Good players incorporate thin value bets into their game for a number of reasons. Of course it’s nice to pick up the extra value here and there, but the main reason is that it makes you a much tougher opponent to play against in general, as others will see that you can be betting a much wider river range than an ABC tight player. This is likely to leave them guessing as to what you hold – a good situation at all times at the poker table.

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