One of the biggest factors in maximizing your win-rate comes down to managing your stack and effectively employing it via bets and raises. Since betting is such an involved subject, I will break down my strategy into two chapters. First, you will learn about my general approach as we cover value betting versus bluffing, continuation betting, barreling, and limped pot play. Then, in the following chapter, I will provide an effective system for betting and raising as we discuss specific bet sizing tactics used to execute that strategy in a pragmatic and efficient way.
Value Betting Versus Bluffing
When an opponent will potentially call your bet with worse hands, you are value betting. This does not mean you must always have the best hand for it to be for value. It just means, in the particular spot you are in, you will have the best of it more often than not. If you don’t have the best hand more often than not, you are no longer value betting and are now bluffing.
This concept is often misunderstood by even accomplished players. Many like to think in absolutes and forget to consider an opponent’s entire range. Just because your value bet gets called on the river by a better hand, it does not mean your bet was not for value. It just means you ran into the top end of the opponent’s range.
By breaking our ranges into tiers, it is much easier to figure out whether we are generally value betting or bluffing. With tier 1 and 2 made hands, you are always value betting. With tier 3 hands, you are value betting against the weaker parts of an opponent’s range and bluffing against the stronger parts. With a tier 4 hand, you are almost always bluffing.
Understanding when you are value betting and when you are bluffing is of utmost importance when planning any hand, because when you are value betting, you tailor your hand execution to get action. When bluffing, you base your strategy on discouraging action. Going forward, always keep in the back of your mind the fundamental concept of value betting versus bluffing and how it affects your actions in manipulating your opponents.
When forming a plan for any hand, you must always keep at the forefront of your thinking that aggressive poker is winning poker and passive poker is losing poker. The mechanics of everything you do post-flop should be governed by keeping pressure on your opponents, as the bedrock of strong post-flop play is controlled steady aggression. Sometimes your bets will be for value, but most of the time your hand will be marginal. Therefore, continuation betting is the post-flop equivalent to pre- flop stealing. With a combination of initiative, pressure, and proper bet sizing you will, in most situations, be able to obtain sufficient non-showdown winnings via fold equity as to render your holding immaterial.
When heads up, you should be c-betting nearly 100% of flops. Once you learn about board textures, you can begin to pick a few boards to play differently. Until then, you really cannot go wrong by pounding away at your opposition. The philosophy of betting until they raise should be your default strategy when you are the pre-flop aggressor. It allows you to win a lot of pots where you have little equity, and also has the added benefit of allowing you to value bet thinner because of the image you establish. Additionally, when you have a marginal tier 3 hand, it allows you to keep initiative and make better hands fold or worse hands get to showdown against you.
The reason this strategy is effective is that most players will often be calling your pre-flop opens because they think they have the “pot odds” to do so. This is because your pre-flop raise size is often a min-raise. As a result, your opponent’s range will often be very weak and miss most boards. Even when they do connect in some way, their hand will not be able to stand up to a turn bet very often. If someone calls you down light, just need to make a note on them and move on.
Against thinking players, you should keep your bet sizing consistent whether you are betting for value or as a bluff. Generally, I bet 1/2 pot on all streets whether I have nothing, the nuts, and everything in between. Depending on your stack size, this usually gives you a pot sized shove or less on the river, which creates both maximum fold equity and still allows you to get it all-in by the river with your big hands.
When facing your average unskilled player, you do not need to balance your betting and should be more concerned with understanding how their range connects with certain board textures in making your bet sizing decisions. I will go deeper into that in the next chapter.
You will find that opponents don’t have to fold all that often for bets to make money over the long term. Over the past 100k hands, my overall flop c-bet success percentage has been about 47.5% in heads-up pots. My standard flop c-bet size is one-half pot, so as you can see by the below chart, I would be crazy not to c-bet nearly 100% of flops when I whiff.