The Key to Making Money at Poker
When you play poker, it's not enough to have a good hand (although it certainly helps). If you bet too much, you'll scare away other opponents, which nullifies the benefits of having a good hand, and if you bet to little, you won't make any money off a sure thing, which also really doesn't work well in your favor. When you have good hands in poker, you really need to understand the ins and outs of value betting, or calculating the right amount to bet (and when to bet) so that you can draw the most money out of your opponents and get more bang for your buck.
Money not won is money lost. While many novice players feel that they ultimately win if their opponents fold or lose a hand, professional players and amateurs who have been around the block a few times know that if you're going to play poker for money, you should be willing to play poker for as much money as possible. Therefore, in every hand, you want to take as much as you can, and anything you don't take is potential income that you've lost. Value betting is what separates the good players from the great ones, and mastering it will help you maximize your profits at the tables.
What to take into consideration:
Value betting is complex and nuanced, which is why it's an advanced strategy. There are many different things to take into consideration when value betting, and you typically have to consider all of them on the fly, which makes good value betting very difficult-- and very profitable when it's mastered. Here's what you need to think about when you're calculating exactly how much you can get away with betting:
The type of game you're playing
In limit games, opponents are much more likely to call bets because the limit keeps bets on the smaller side. Even with a weak hand, an opponent might call in a limit game, simply because there's not as much to lose. This means that if you want to make some serious money playing limit poker, you're going to need to be an aggressive player so that you can 1) get the most money out of your opponents and 2) not scare them off by betting, so that they call you.
Strength of opponent's hand
The time for a value bet is when you know that you have a stronger hand than your opponent. There's no point in reeling them in for loads of money when they actually end up taking the pot! If your opponent has a horribly weak hand, however, he's going to fold, so value bets work best on players with middle strength to strong hands that just happen to be not as good as what you have.
Opponent's play style/skill level
Some poker players have the full gamut of strategy in their toolkit, and others don't. Players without much strategy tend to play and bet on strong hands and fold weak hands. Some have just learned new tricks and are over-eager to try them out-- these are also easy to spot. Look for players who keep making the same kinds of plays time after time, regardless of whether or not it's the best move (such as the player who tries a continuation bet over and over again). Some players are more aggressive than others, and some are more conservative; all these different nuances can tell you a lot about your opponent, such as whether his check means that he's planning to check raise or if it means that he has a mediocre hand, because by getting a feel for your opponent's style, you can determine whether the check-raise is something that he's even likely to do at all.
Study your opponent's play style and actions and try to figure out what he could be holding that would get him to bet the way that he has. Keep in mind that good players commonly make sure of poker strategy, such as the continuation bet and bluffing, and take what you know about this player and his or her tactics and apply that to the current situation. It's good to keep mental notes about all of the players so that you don't have to spend too long deliberating whenever it's your turn to bet.
Opponent's ability to fold
Some players, especially those who have been down on their luck for a while, get very attached to good hands and are unwilling to fold them, getting themselves pot committed and then holding onto the cards out of the desperate hope that they can pull a win out of thin air. First of all, don't be one of these players. Secondly, learn to recognize these players when you see them, because they're walking meal tickets. Players who don't fold are players who you can trap more easily, players who are more likely to go all-in with a weak hand or call a larger value bet than common sense would allow.
Opponent's personal betting limits
Each player has a limit as to how far he'll go when he knows that he's taking a risk (well, most players do, anyway). For some players, this varies according to their personal chip stack, and the more they have, the more they're willing to throw into the pot on a hunch that they could win it, while for others it's a cut-and-dry amount: 100, for instance, or a certain percentage of the pot. Watch how the players play and try to determine if there's a point at which certain players always fold-- this will help you see if they have personal betting limits that could hurt you when trying to value bet.
Opponent's perception of the strength of his hand
It's pretty simple-- the better an opponent thinks his hand is, the more he's willing to bet on it. Players who fall for value bets are typically one of two types: players who get pot-committed too early with weak hands that they're married to, and players who have strong hands and lose to the nuts or second nuts.
Opponent's perception of the strength of your hand
Unless your opponent is a rookie, he's not only considering the strength of the cards in his hand, but also the potential of the cards in everyone else's hands-- including yours. If you're up against a casual player, then you have a good shot at taking them for all they've got, because they're only seeing the strong pair in their own hand, and not the potential that you're holding on to the nuts-- weak players can pad your bankroll pretty easily, and the majority of professional players get their money from players who make mistakes like this. Good players are not only assessing the value of their own hands, but also the value of yours, so if you're trying to value bet without the winning hand, they'll be quick to call and take your money. You'll need to make sure that your hand is solid, but also ensure that they don't think that your hand is as solid as it is. You might want to seem more hesitant than you are, take extra time, look at your chips, look at your cards, make it look like you're calculating the pot odds-- give subtle, seemingly unconscious clues that you're not 100% sure about your hand.
Slow Playing vs. Value Betting
A lot of new poker players think that slow-playing is always the way to go when they have a strong hand, and this is a mistake. The reason that novice players are taught to slow-play is because they generally start playing poker with the "bet if it's good, fold if it's not" mentality, and slow-playing is the first step in overcoming that mindset. While it's essential to change up how you play your hand, you should be able to assess both your own playing patterns and those of your opponents and determine whether you're likely to get more money slow-playing or value betting. Both have their time and place, and it's a purely situational call as to which to use in a given scenario.
Examples of value bets:
Your hand: King of Spades King of Diamonds
- Flop: Ace of Diamonds King of Hearts 9 of Clubs
- Turn: Queen of Spades
- River: 5 of Spades
You're good to go with the second-nuts. If you've been playing your cards right, you should still have some action here, and you can value bet your opponents stacks away from them. While there's a chance that someone else is sitting on a pair of Aces, it's very unlikely, moreso because of the Ace on the board, so you're pretty much free to bet at will. If an opponent is willing to make a max bet of 100, and you only bid 50, then you're essentially out 50 that you could have made. If you bet 101, though, he's going to fold, and then you're out for 100. This is why value betting is so delicate-- you have to really know how your opponents work to be successful.
Take this last hand, for example. Let's say there are three players who are still in the action with you. One of them is likely sitting there, pot-committed, with a busted straight. His hand's value is pretty much high card, so you won't get a lot out of him. Another raised after the flop, but didn't raise after the turn, so there's a chance that he has something going on with the Aces or 9 of Spades -- probably a single pair, maybe even a double. He probably doesn't have trips, or he'd have bet more aggressively. The value of his hand is pretty middle-of-the-road, but you know that he's a heavy better who doesn't like to fold. The last opponent bet after the turn but was quiet after the flop and checked now, so he probably also has a busted straight or has some Queens-- either way, you're fine. Now you just need to determine how much you could bet each player without him folding and then determine how much you want to bet overall-- some players may fold, but what you can get out of the others may make up for it. Complicated? Sure-- but no one said that value betting was easy.