Poker 101: Value Betting vs. Bluffing
A lot of times you’ll see players who are new to no-limit online poker have one simple reason for making bets and raises: it has something to do with confidence that they had the best hand at the table.
Quite often this will work, particularly when you’re playing against low-skill players. There are all kinds of reasons to call if you’re a poor player with a lousy hand. This means that if you believe that you have the best hand, if you bet and raise, you are likely to succeed. However, if you’re playing against highly skilled players, raising with the best hand isn’t always the best idea, even more if you’re playing real money poker. To understand this, let’s take a look at an example.
Let’s say you’re in a legal online poker site and that you’re playing against an aggressive, tight opponent who makes a button raise. You have the King of Hearts and the Queen of Diamonds, and you three-bet him. He folds, and you carry away the pot.
But why did you three-bet with a KQ? You probably thought you had the best hand the majority of the time. That particular opponent had been stealing about a third of the time, which means that he’s doing it with some trash in his hand from time to time. You figured him for a decent player, which means that he folds a lot of the time. But why would you raise to get him to fold with a hand that was already worse than yours? If it’s worse, wouldn’t you want him to add more to the pot before leaving?
If you know that your hand is better, you want to keep the opponent in there with you instead of intimidating him away. The idea is to put the right bed to put the opponent there to call and follow his draw with faulty odds, rather than throwing the whole stack in and knocking him away.
After all, if you’re holding a KQ, and you look at his steal range (about 33%), you’ll realize that KQ will win about 52 percent of the time. So you were holding a favorite hand, but you weren’t holding a dominant favorite. The reason is that the range your opponent was stealing on includes hands with an Ace. Even a pocket pair is already ahead of you. So you were ahead of that range, but not by much. In fact, many possible hands for him were still ahead of you. So what should you do now?
Also, what else might he do against a three-bet? In the example, he folded. So in a way, that three-bet was really a bluff instead of a value bet. You were trying to get him to fold, in reality, when he might well have had a better hand that what you did. That’s a great result if you can get it – but you can’t consider it a value bet.
So what is the difference between a value bet and a bluff? A bluff is a bet that you make to get people who would probably beat you at call to fold without seeing your cards. A value bet is a calculation that you make on the basis of what you have – and what others likely have – to get the best outcome mathematically. There is some overlap, but if you’re not in a strong position, you use that bluff to get clear of danger.