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Know How To Check For Value

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Sep 08, 2021

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This hand from a $500 buy-in poker tournament illustrates an important concept you must master if you want to succeed at poker.

With the blinds at 800-1,600 with a 1,600 big blind ante with 45,000 effective stacks, the button limped in. He’s an unknown player who so far has seemed to be a bit too splashy and aggressive.

Our Hero in the small blind raised to 4,000 with AHeart Suit 6Diamond Suit.

Assuming Hero wants to raise, he should raise larger, perhaps to 5,000. When facing a raise of only 2,400 on top of his 1,600 limp, the button will call with his entire preflop limping range.

In general, when you are out of position, you want your opponents to fold. You certainly do not want to get action with a junky hand like A-6 offsuit. This should result in you using a larger raise size that gives your opponent a realistic opportunity to fold.

The big blind folded and the button called. The flop came QHeart Suit 8Heart Suit 6Club Suit, giving Hero bottom pair, top kicker, plus a backdoor nut flush draw.

Hero bet 4,500 into the 11,200 pot.

Both betting small and checking this flop are fine plays. If the button will call with a wide range of hands and then apply pressure on lots of turns and rivers, Hero should check. If the button will play in a straightforward manner when facing a bet (raising with his premium hands, calling his marginal hands and draws, and folding everything else), Hero should bet.

In general, hands with marginal amounts of showdown value should be checked because if you bet and get called or raised, you are usually in bad shape.

The button called. The turn was the 2Diamond Suit. Hero bet 8,000 into the 20,200 pot.

Jonathan LittleThis is not a great turn bet against most competent players because their calling range will include only decent made hands that Hero loses to, as well as draws that have a lot of equity against Hero’s weak pair.

If you instead check, you can easily call a bet because the button may turn many of his draws into semi-bluffs. Quite often though, the turn will check through, allowing Hero to check/call all non-heart rivers. Checking also takes away the button’s ability to raise the turn, which would force Hero to fold.

The button called. The river was the 3Spade Suit. Hero checks and the button bet 15,000 into the 36,200 pot.

This is a tough spot because Hero’s small turn bet does not do much to narrow the button’s range, meaning he should have lots of busted draws in his river range. The tough part is knowing whether or not he will bluff in this manner with some portion of those missed draws.

Some players will play their value hands and bluffs the same way, betting 15,000 with both types of hands. Others will vary their bet sizes, making one bet size with their bluffs and a different bet size with their value hands.

If Hero thinks the button will bet the same size with his entire range, and he will bet with all his bluffs, Hero has an easy call because he only needs to win 23% of the time to break even, based on the pot odds, 15,000/(15,000 + 15,000 + 36,200) = 23%. If Hero thinks the button will only or mostly bet this size with his value hands, Hero should fold because he loses to all value hands.

Hero decided to fold and the button showed JHeart Suit 9Diamond Suit for a bluff (and a very optimistic turn call!).

Had Hero elected to check either the flop or turn, he would have been able to see a somewhat cheap showdown a large portion of the time. Of course, the button could have run a sizable bluff, betting all three streets (and pushing all-in on the river), but most players are not willing to risk their tournament life on an all-in river bluff.

If Hero played this hand a bit more cautiously, he would have won a medium-sized pot. Instead, he lost a medium-sized pot and got exploited by his opponent.

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.