Skill #3. Assess Your Hand Value – P2: WHAT WEAKER HANDS WILL CALL?

In hold ’em generally, with any bet you make, you’re trying to get a worse hand to call, or a better hand to fold.

So when you flop a value hand—e.g., top pair, a set, two pair, and so on—ask yourself: if I bet, what weaker hands will call? And how many weaker hands are out there? This will help you decide how much value your hand actually has. And what your bet sizing should be.

For example, say you raise A♥K♥ pre-flop and get two callers. The flop comes A♦9♠4♣. You have top pair, top kicker. If you bet, what worse hands will call you?

An opponent with an ace and a kicker worse than yours will almost certainly call at least one bet. You might also get calls from someone with a nine, someone with a four, or someone with an unimproved pair like T-T.

Say you have A-T instead. Mostly the same worse hands will call. But you have to worry about A-J, A-Q, and A-K that now beat you.

Say you have J-J instead. Now all the aces beat you, but you still may get calls from weaker hands such as nines, fours, and smaller unimproved pocket pairs.


I’ve helped to clear up that common misconception about your value hands—you don’t want to shut a pot down on the flop, and you don’t want to push players out of the hand. Moving on, now we can assign those hands the “right” value. The first task is to consider how many streets of value a particular hand is worth.

If you bet your hand on a given street and most of the time worse hands call you, consider that a “street of value.” In our A♥K♥ example on the A♦9♠4♣ flop, we clearly have at least one street of value. If we bet out with this hand, many worse hands will call.

Say we bet the flop and get called. Now the turn brings the

2♥, making the board A♦9♠4♣2♥. If you bet again (a bigger- sized turn bet), what hands will call again?

Clearly not all the hands that called the first time will call again. Someone holding Q♠4♠ will probably give up. Someone with T♦9♦ might give up too. As might someone with J♠J♣.

Depending on the game, someone with A♣6♠ may or may not give up. On the other hand, someone with A♣Q♠ or A♠J♠ will likely call.

And anyone who called the flop with A-2 now has you beat.

If you bet the hand a second time, will worse hands call? Absolutely. In most games, enough worse hands will call you that it’s worthwhile to bet the hand again for value. You might get raised by A-2. But you’ll get called often enough by A-Q, A-J, and A-T to make up for it. And if you do get raised, because your opponents don’t bluff often enough, you can probably just fold. (Though before you fold, consider whether the raiser might mistakenly raise you with a hand like A-T.)

So it would appear your A♥K♥ hand easily has at least two streets of value. You bet the flop, and you’ll most likely get called by worse hands. You bet the turn, and you’ll most likely still get called by worse hands.

How about the river? If you bet the flop and turn, can you bet the river and expect to get called by worse hands? This answer depends on the playing style of your opponents, the specific river card, and how much you bet.

If your opponents are typical Las Vegas regulars in a noon game on a Tuesday, and if the river card is a queen, the answer is no. Las Vegas regulars are notoriously tight post-flop, and they would typically find a fold even with a hand as strong as A-T if you tried to bet it three times.

The one hand you might get them to call you down with, A- Q, makes two pair if the river delivers a queen.

Though if you decided to bet smaller, you might be able to change this equation and squeak out a little bit of value on the final street. A Las Vegas opponent might balk at calling a $150 holding A-T, but might not be able to resist calling $50.

On the other hand, because context is everything, if your opponents are wild Los Angeles small-stakes players, and the river is a deuce, you likely could shove the river and expect to get called by plenty of worse hands.

So in the Las Vegas game, you might say that A-K has two, or perhaps two and a half, streets of value. (A half of a street of value means that you may or may not get that street. It could go one way or the other depending on the cards that come or on your opponent’s strategy.) In the Los Angeles game, you might say that A-K has a full three streets of value.

To summarize: a hand has a street of value if you can bet it and expect to be called, on average, by worse hands. If you can’t think of many (or any) worse hands that would call if you bet, then your hand lacks that street of value.

The notion of “streets of value” means you should always have a plan for the hand. On the flop, you should look ahead and begin to estimate how many streets there are from which you can extract

value. Your thought process might be, “Okay, I have A-K on an ace-high, rainbow flop. I can bet once and get most pairs to call. I can bet again and still worse aces will call. On the river I might have some trouble getting called by worse hands, particularly if the turn and river cards come down scary.”

If A-K has two, or two and a half, streets of value, then A-T in the majority of cases, has no more than two streets. You can bet the flop with it and get called by worse aces and weaker pairs. But if you bet the turn, it’s a toss-up whether you’ll be ahead or behind when your opponent calls again. Weak aces like A-6 might call, but you also might be getting called by A-J or A-Q.

A hand like A-6 has even fewer streets of value—probably just one. You can bet it once and get smaller pairs to call. But if you bet it again, the hands that call will tend to be aces that beat you.

Incidentally, this is why hands like A♠6♣ are junk in hold ’em. Lots of loose players run with any ace at all in low-stakes games, and sometimes they hit two pair and drag a pot. But resist the groupthink. If you take this hand to battle, and you flop an ace, it’s likely worth only a single street of value. You have to flop two pair or better to wring more streets of value out of it.

And you don’t need an ace in your hand to flop two pair. Any two cards can flop two pair or better and get multiple streets of value. Furthermore, since A♠6♣ can’t make a flush or straight using both cards, if you miss the flop and bluff, you’ll rarely have much equity-when-called. (Remember our “equity-when-called” discussion earlier in the book? This is a good illustration.)

Let’s look at another example and determine streets of value.

You have T♣9♣. You open-raise and three players call. The flop comes K♠T♠9♠ giving you bottom two pair on a board with straight and flush possibilities.

Everyone checks to you. How many streets of value is this hand worth?

Say you bet the flop. What worse hands might call? You’ll get calls from any king. You’ll also get a call from whomever is holding the A♠. You also might get calls from hands like J♠J♦ or Q♠T♥.

Unfortunately, these hands all have significant equity against you. On this flop, even hitting two pair, almost every hand that might call you will have a good chance to draw out.

Some people look at that reality and think, “Wow, I’d better bet huge and drive everyone out. I have the winning hand right now. Why mess with a board that could give someone a straight or flush?” But, again, that’s not the ideal attitude.

Instead, you should think, “This hand has a bit of showdown value, but it’s not worth a whole lot. I will play it cautiously, trying to preserve the showdown value while not paying off a better hand.”

Getting back to streets of value on our K♠T♠9♠ board, I could name several weaker hands that would call. So you can lock in at least one street of value. But how about two?

Well, first of all, any spade, jack, or ten on the turn makes it very easy for an opponent to hold a flush or straight respectively. In that circumstance, it’s unrealistic to think you can bet bottom two pair and be ahead most of the time when you’re called. And one of those scare cards will show up roughly one-third of the time. So, if one of those cards comes, you can be fairly sure you’re limited to only one street of value. (Turning your hand into a bluff is a possibility if one of the scare cards comes, but don’t worry about that for now.)

On the flipside, if the turn comes a ten or nine, your full house now pretty much guarantees you three streets of value, since you can bet the turn and river and expect someone with a flush to call you down.

If the turn bricks, however, can you bet again and get called by worse on our K♠T♠9♠ board? It’s close. Many of the hands I listed on the flop as potential callers will likely call again. The player with the A♠ and those with flush-and-straight combo draws will be tempted to see the river card. A player with just a king and no kicker might release. But most small-stakes players would call again with A-K, K-Q, or K-J.

On a dynamic board like K♠T♠9♠ (a dynamic board is one where the best hand is likely to change after the turn and river cards), your hand’s particular streets of value may depend a lot on which cards come. If a flush or straight card comes, your two pair loses all remaining streets of value. If a card that gives you a full house comes, you can bet all three streets confidently. If a brick comes, you may have two streets of value.

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