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(This is the fifth in our series on mistakes poker players make. Our last two columns discussed Neglecting the Poker odds. Today we will examine Mistake #4 as judged by our Claude Pepper Seniors Center Poker Lab: Not Betting for Value.)

Is there any successful businessman who doesn’t want to get full value when he sells a product? Why would any poker player deny himself full value when he holds the winning hand? Remember, the object in playing winning poker is to leave the table with lots of chips – the more the merrier; it’s not to see how many hands you can win.

Have you ever seen a player holding the nuts fail to bet on the river? I saw one man who checked on the river with the nuts, turn up his hand and say: “I’m not greedy.” It was nice of him to think of the best interests of his opponents; but that’s not what the game of poker is all about. Was he trying to impress us with how charitable he is?

Assuming you were not trying for a check-raise, the most flagrant abuse of the concept of betting for value is, of course, failing to get as many chips as possible into the pot when you hold the nuts – the best possible hand – at the river. Bottom Line: When you are on the button with the nuts and your opponents have checked to you, failing to bet is a costly mistake.

On the river, even if you don’t hold the absolute nuts, a value bet still may be appropriate if there is little chance an opponent holds a better hand than yours. If the odds are better than 50-50 that yours is the best hand, you should bet rather than check on the river. When making that decision, be sure to consider the type of player you are about to attack. There could be danger if he is very tricky, in which case checking might be the best decision. Otherwise, bet for value.

Another Way to Value Bet

Betting on the river with the nuts is the most obvious way to value bet; there is another way. Example: On the flop in a limit game, you hold four-to-the-nut flush. The card odds are 1.86-to-1 against your making the flush on the turn or river. Those are attractive odds. You are on the button and three opponents have bet before you. Certainly you intend to stay to see the turn – and most likely the river too.

But a better decision is to raise. The three opponents who already had bet, almost certainly will call your raise. You are getting 3-to-1 pot odds on that raised bet, considerably higher than the card odds against you. That’s a Positive Expectation bet – a certain winner in the long run. Raising in this case offers yet another benefit: Chances are your opponents will check to you on the turn, giving you the option to receive a free card to see the river if the turn didn’t help you.

P.S. We have received some great comments about mistakes players make. You are invited to submit your candidate for one of the Top 10 Mistakes at limit hold’em at [email protected]; briefly describe how to avoid making that mistake. A copy of my Hold’em Algorithm booklet will be awarded to the winners. Please include your name and address, and where you play poker. We may use your name in a column if your “mistake” is selected.

Meanwhile, try to avoid making mistakes. 

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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