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A Hidden Benefit of Value Targeting

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Oct 30, 2013


Andrew BrokosI’ve written before about the benefits of what I call value targeting, which is having in mind an idea of the hands you want to pay you off when you are betting for value. Many players make the mistake of sizing their bets based on the size of their own hand, betting bigger with nut hands and smaller when value betting thinly. The better approach is to bet big when you are targeting strong hands for value and to bet small when you are targeting weak hands. Sometimes, even if you have the nuts, you’ll have reason to believe that your opponent doesn’t have much, and it’s better to win a small bet than nothing at all.

The other advantage of value targeting is that it helps you to save money when you’ve been coolered. If your thought process for value betting consists of no more than “I have a strong hand, so I’ll bet,” then you risk an expensive mistake when your opponent will never call you unless he has something even stronger. A hand from my recent play in PokerStars’ World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and one from the cash games I played on the side illustrate this point, for better and for worse.

The first hand demonstrates the classic mistake of semi-bluffing, getting there, and then trying to value bet when you’ve already represented a stronger hand than the one you made. It comes from a $200 rebuy, not too long after the close of the rebuy period. The blinds were 125-250 with a 30 ante.

The first player to act opened with a raise to 562, the next player called, a player in middle position called, and I was on the button with 5Club Suit 4Club Suit. This being a rebuy tournament, there were a lot of chips on the table. The original raiser began with about 15,000 and everyone had at least 10,000. With 35,000, I covered them all by a wide margin.

I’m never going to fold a suited connector in this spot, and I decided, rather than calling, to reraise and set up a postflop steal. I made it 1,888, the blinds folded, the first two players called, and the last folded, so three of us saw the flop with 6,871 in the pot.

It came J-J-7 with two clubs. They checked to me, and not wanting to get check-raised off of my draw, I checked behind.

The 10Club Suit on the turn made me a flush. The first player checked, the next bet 2,235, I raised to 6,666, the first player folded, and the bettor called. At this point, I can still be called by worse hands, including flush draws and trips.

I like this raise, but I need to be conscious of what my hand looks like and what my opponent’s range is. After calling a first position raise and then a reraise, there’s a very good chance he’s playing either a pocket pair, a suited connector, or a good but not great broadway hand. I, meanwhile, have represented a big pair or a big ace with my reraise, so hands like tens full, quad jacks, and ace-king or ace-queen of clubs are all very much in my range. Basically, I have a strong hand, but not as strong as what I could have. My opponent, meanwhile, could easily be drawing to — or have already made — a better hand.

My plan ought to have been to check back any river and take a showdown. I expect I’d win at showdown more often than not, but it’s too ambitious to think that a river bet can get called by worse often enough to make up for the times it’s called by better.

The QSpade Suit on the river presented yet more full house possibilities for either myself or my opponent. He checked, and undeterred, I bet his last 12,000 into what was now a 20,000 pot. He happily called with quads, and only after the fact did I realize that I hadn’t considered what I was expecting him to show up with in a scenario where the pot was pushed to me. I hadn’t considered a value target, and so I never saw that there wasn’t one.

This next hand occurred a few days later, at a $1-$2 “Zoom” table I was playing on the side while competing in a different WCOOP event. For those who don’t know, “Zoom” is PokerStars’ fast poker variant, where after folding you are instantly transported to a new table with new opponents and new cards. You do see some of the same players over and over again, but this particular opponent and I had played only about 100 hands together, so there wasn’t much of a dynamic between us.

I opened in first position to $6 holding a pair of treys. My opponent called in middle position, and the rest of the table folded. He began the hand with $255, and I covered him.

The flop came ADiamond Suit JDiamond Suit 6Spade Suit, hardly ideal for me, but I took a small stab at it anyway. I bet $8, and he called.

I was ready to be done with the hand, but the 3Heart Suit on the turn changed all that. There was now $31 in the pot, and I needed to start thinking about value targets. There were three types of hands my opponent could have: marginal hands like Q-J or A-Q that might put one more bet into the pot but would mostly be trying to show down cheaply, floats like K-Q or a diamond draw, and monster hands such as sets or two-pair.

Generally, it’s best to target hands slightly weaker than yours for value, so the first hands I thought about were A-J, A-6, and A-3. It seemed likely that I would win big pots from these hands no matter what. Of course, there was also the risk that I was in bad shape against a higher set, but at this point I was committed to the pot, so there was no sense in worrying about how to save money against those.

Since I was counting on winning a lot from the most obvious second-best hands no matter how I played, I looked deeper. If I was only going to get one bet out of A-Q or Q-J, it didn’t really matter whether I did that on the turn or river. If anything, my opponent might call a little lighter on the river since he’d be guaranteed to see a showdown with no threat of a further bet, so that would argue for a check.

Floats would most likely fold to a big turn bet but bluff if checked to, so checking was clearly the best play against those. Since checking was a perfectly viable option for getting value from my opponent’s other two types of hands as well, that’s what I opted to do. Conveniently, this is also how I’d play quite a few weaker hands, including those with which I was giving up and those with which I was trying to play pot control myself, so it’s nice to balance that by checking an extremely strong holding.

My opponent bet $22 into $31, and now I had to reassess his range. The bet, and especially the sizing, seemed inconsistent with a marginal hand. I expected him to try to keep the pot small with those, so I started weighting him more towards a polarized range of either a float or a monster.

In order to stay consistent with my plan of representing some sort of marginal hand myself, I just called the bet. I figured he would value bet any worse hand that could call a check-raise anyway, and while there was some risk to giving a free card to his floats, there was also a lot of reward. Because it would seem like I was trying to showdown one pair, he might well fire another big bluff if he missed his draw. And if he was on diamonds, there were least two cards that would improve both of our hands and put him in a world of hurt.

The JClub Suit on the river disrupted my plans again. Now I was no longer ahead of my opponent’s monster range. His A-J had improved, and his A-6 and A-3 had been counterfeited and probably wouldn’t put any more money into the pot. Having already ruled out medium-strength hands from his range, I was left with a bluffcatcher. If I was really lucky, he might have improved a hand like Q-J to trips, but that, too, would bet if checked to. The best I could do was check and call, which I did, losing another $56 to A-J.

Despite the unfortunate result, I was pleased with myself for not making a disastrous shove on the river that would have cost me another $163, nearly a full buy-in to this game. Sometimes even a full house is just a bluffcatcher, and if you aren’t thinking about what you want to get value from, then you may not realize it when there’s no value left to get. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.