Let's put you in the hot-seat with this question:
You have called a raise from the small blind before the flop, and hit top pair on the flop. You call bets on the flop and turn feeling slightly uncertain, but are much happier when you hit a great card on the end. The river card gives you the top two pair, and you have probably just taken the lead. If the pot stands at 10,000, how much do you value bet?
You are only right if you say, "I don't know, I need to know my hand and the board- this changes everything." Let's have a look at how you think things change in these two situations:
1) Your hand is , and the board is
2) Your hand is , and the board is
Both times we hit a king on the flop for top pair, and make the top two pair on the end. However, I would go as far as saying that the differences are such that we should bet just 3,500 in the first example, and as much as 10,000, the whole pot, in the second.
What are the differences between the hands?
Any differences often revolve around the texture of the two boards. Though board 1) is packed with high cards, there is no possibility for missed draws on the end. Even on the turn, there is no two card flush draw available, and the straight draw available with a hand like has hit. A hand like has missed its straight but has hit a pair, and so players would not be inclined to bluff with it.
Missed draws on board 2), however, are in abundance. A hand like has missed its straight completely, and there are in fact two missed flush draws from the turn.
This difference of course means that a bluff looks far more likely in example 2), and a decent opponent will definately pick up on this.
The crucial difference between the two boards is the number of made hands available. Board 1) has cards very connected (close together), and three cards in what we call the playing zone (cards ten or higher). We can assume the other player has a typical starting hand like you, and so this means that there are many possibilities for a set, two pair or a straight.
Board 2) is disjointed in comparison; a confident bet of 10,000 just does not fit with many hands at all, and so will probably be read as a bluff.
We can be even more specific, and talk not only of the made hands available, but the hands that fit our betting pattern- the conservative flat calls follow by a bet on the end in both cases suggest that the river has changed our hand. This is a very difficult story for our opponent to believe on the seemingly innocuous river, and means that this truly is a great card to hit.
The amount to value-bet
The big difference in value bets I have suggested is partly due to the fact that on board 1) we cannot be absolutely sure that top two pair is winning, and so we protect ourselves by keeping the stakes down.
The main reason, however, is all to do with our opponent's perception of the hand. On board 1), with no missed draws and so many made hands, a decent opponent will know that we must have something.
Let's say our opponent has for top pair- this is actually a marginal hand on this board. A big value bet would unfortunately tell the truth- that our something is very big- and would allow him to pass. A 3,500 value bet is nearly impossible for our opponent to pass, as it puts our hand in a much wider range of possible hands- some of which he can beat.
On board no 2), our opponent will find it hard to believe the claim made by our big value bet, that we have something big. Few made hands and many missed draws mean he will probably pay us off handsomely. In fact, he may be even more likely to pay us off for 10,000 than for 4,000. A small bet of 4,000 does not look like a bluff, and may alert our opponent to the fact we have something, allowing him to pass the weaker hands.
The made hands to missed draws ratio
No player ever works it out as a number, the idea of a made hands: missed draws ratio is something good players are well aware of. (Do not worry about the mathematical language- your ratio only needs to be as simple as lots to few, or few to lots). Here are two examples:
Very high- many made hands, no missed draws
Very low- few typical made hands, many missed draws
How should it influence our decisions?
This ratio is at the centre of how likely it is that your opponent will think you are bluffing. With made hands high and missed draws low, your opponent will tend to believe you, and vice versa.
Let's say you held a weak hand like (3rd pair) on board no 1). A cunning play would be to bet10,000, to turn your hand into a bluff. If your opponent applies this logic, he will know that you cannot be bluffing with no hand at all. If he does not suspect you of this unusual play of turning a marginal hand into a bluff, he will have to give you credit for a very big hand.
Value-betting is a part of the game that goes hand in hand with bluffing, and in fact works as a mirror image to it. Where your opponent will give a lot of weight to the thought you are bluffing, as on board no 2), you should pump up your value bets with big hands. The change also means that you can try cunning value bets with thin hands- on board 2), you may be able to get 4,000 off your opponent with a hand as thin as (top pair no kicker), if you believe this is ahead to a hand like
Conversely, where there is next to no chance that you are making an outright bluff, you need to convince your opponent to call by making a small bet.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you make your first deposit[/I]