Great Players Always Make Thin Value Bets

Many players have the notion that at high stakes you need to make super thin value bets. As with most misconceptions, there’s both truth and fallacy here.

The truth is that when your opponents become stubborn and willing to call you down light to keep you from running them over, opportunities arise to value bet three streets with some surprisingly marginal hands. Your opponent may expect your range to be heavily polarized, so he’ll call down with all of his bluff catchers. By betting some of your weaker hands for value, you depolarize your range and make some extra money.

The above situation is nothing special. It’s simply good poker. You put your opponent on a range. You think about how he’ll play that range. You choose the most profitable option.

One, two, three. Easy game.

The only thing that changes is your opponent’s range and how he plays it. Your thought process should always be the same.

There will be other spots in high stakes games where your opponent’s range is very strong. This is not a good time for thin value bets. Take this example:


Dusty has KK♣ in a full ring game and cold calls a tight early position raiser, hoping to get squeezed behind. No one obliges, but the big blind calls, and the flop comes out three ways. KA4♣ is an excellent flop, and the tight opener makes a three-quarters pot c-bet. Dusty calls and the big blind folds. The turn is the A♣ and the raiser fires out a three-quarters pot bet again. Dusty calls. The river is the Q♥ and the raiser checks. Dusty checks.

It may seem insane to check kings full on the river. After all, there are only 9 combinations of likely hands that can beat it (AA/AK/AQ). But what on earth can call a value bet? Ace-jack? This tight player might not even raise ace-jack under the gun, except possibly suited. That’s only 2 to 8 combinations which would be calling just hoping to chop. While the better hands can be discounted after the river check, it’s not unreasonable for the preflop raiser to go for a check/raise with them. In fact, he turned up with ace-king in this hand, the stone cold nuts.


While kings full may be a surprising river check back, there are spots that are more difficult to deal with than that one. The most confusing situation is the one where you figure to have the best hand almost all the time, but there is nothing in your opponent’s range that can pay you off.

You don’t want to check behind, because your range will become overly polarized, making it easy for your opponents to call down against your bluffs. But you don’t want to value bet way too liberally, either. Sometimes you’ll get raised and either fold the best hand or end up paying off an unlikely monster.

The good news is that by the time you get to the river, you’ve accumulated a lot of information. You can use all of this information to decide whether to bet, and how much. Consider the following factors:

Strength of your hand: This is pretty straightforward. If you hold the nuts, you’ll obviously want to value bet. As your hand becomes weaker, there will be fewer and fewer hands that you beat. You can only make money from hands that you beat.

Strength of your opponent’s range: As your opponent’s range becomes stronger, the relative strength of your hand will decrease (unless you hold the nuts).

Strength of your perceived range: The weaker your opponent thinks your range is, the lighter he will call you down; therefore, the thinner you can value bet.

Table play dynamics: If you’ve been betting and raising a lot, your opponent is likely to perceive your range as wider, which usually means you can value bet more aggressively. If you’ve been caught bluffing recently, there’s a good chance your opponent will call you down lighter. This is where the leveling game comes into play. You need to keep your finger to the pulse of your opponent if you want to keep your foot on his throat.

To learn to squeeze that extra value out of the right hands, you need to develop strong reads. Pay attention to everything your opponents do. Watch how often they fold and what hands they call you down with.

Ranges are usually pretty wide on the flop. As more action goes in, they get tighter. Ranges contract as the pot expands. By the river, you’re often looking at some well refined ranges. Just remember, in order for you to have a profitable value bet, it’s not good enough to be ahead of your opponent’s range. You have to be ahead of the range of hands that will actually call your bet.

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