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What Is the Difference Between Value Betting and Bluffing?
A value bet is made in the hope that your opponent calls with a second-best hand—which makes you money. This is in comparison to a bluff, in which you hope your opponent folds. You make money in poker when these bets are successful. The size of these bets is crucial to maximizing your profit. On dry boards, for example, your bet sizes should be smaller as the risk of allowing your opponent to draw is negligible. On wet boards, the risk is severe and so bigger bets should be made. Even taking this advice into account, your bluffs should be the minimum possible size to get the job done.
The Best Bet Sizing for Successful Value Plays
The bigger the bet size, the higher success rate is needed to break even on your bluff. Smaller bet sizes can often be successful with a much lower risk. Your bet sizing should also be consistent, with your value bets and bluffs being similar sizes in the same situations. Adjustments can still be made based on your opponents, as weak players will not understand what your strategy is. Increasing the size of your value bets against weak players is key to maintaining a high win rate.
You should always keep an eye on your opponent’s bet sizings, as they may show a pattern that indicates their strength of hand. These patterns are not always obvious, but once you pick up a solid read you can make adjustments to your strategy against them.
Value Betting Strategy in Cash Games
Cash game play is all about getting value. During your playing sessions, every time you make a bet, take extra time to assess if you expect your hand to be the best hand more than half of the time. Don’t assume, however, that because cash games are all about value they’re simpler. The complexity of cash games is in the value game. Choosing your bet sizes is a difficult process when you’re deep-stacked, but, as the value bettor, it is critical for you to extract the maximum from your opponents. In a poker tournament, factors such as ICM (which stands for “independent chip model” and distinguishes the difference in value of a chip at various stages of tournament play) and the bubble relieve you of this pressure to always go for value and push your edges.
Value Betting Strategy for Multi-Way Pots Versus Heads-Up Pots
Multi-way pots are pots that have three or more players. They require a different strategy than heads-up pots, where you only have a single opponent, because with more players in the hand it is more likely that at least one player has a strong hand. This means that bets in multi-way pots are more polarized to strong hands and (occasionally) worthless hands. The medium-strength hands will usually be played more passively. The tendency to see strong hands more frequently in multi-way pots makes players a lot more honest than you usually see in heads-up pots. Bets will tend to mean what they are representing.
You can incorporate semi-bluffs into your betting range in multi-way pots to avoid being so easily read. This way—with the increased danger of being up against a strong hand—you are bluffing with plenty of equity and will often finish with the best hand if you hit your draw. Even though multi-way situations can be dangerous, you can still seize opportunities to push stronger hands out of the pot with a bluff, leaving you to play against the perceived weakest hand or player. For this to work, your bluffs need to be viewed as strong value bets more often and you must be keenly aware of what your opponents’ ranges are. You can take the initiative when you are in position and nobody bets, because it is unlikely that anybody has a strong hand. If, for example, you are in a six-way pot on the button and nobody has bet, then you can bet knowing that if anybody had a strong hand or a monster draw, they likely would have bet themselves.
Even if you are called, you can continue aggressively on the turn and river knowing that your opponents have weak ranges.
The Pros and Cons of Value Betting
Daniel doesn’t recommend slow playing as a regular part of your strategy in multi-way pots because you may forfeit value in a situation where it is more likely somebody has a strong hand. If you don’t bet and your opponent doesn’t bite then no money went into the pot and you win less—and in multi-way situations you’re missing out on a lot because there’s a higher chance someone has a hand they can call with. Multi-way pots are also more common at lower stakes where players are less skilled and likely to pay you off. If you’re playing low stakes against less skilled opponents, bluffing is rarely a good idea because weak players do not generally fold enough.
Your focus should always be toward value betting rather than trying to make sophisticated plays. Value betting takes time and practice (not to mention, thousands of practice hands), but once mastered, it’s a winning long term strategy.