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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Failing To Go For Value

Little Explains How Some Amateurs Miss Out On Value For Their Strong Hands

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I was recently told about a hand by a novice poker player in a $500 buy-in local tournament that illustrates a few key mistakes that you should ensure are not part of your strategy. With blinds at 500-1,000 with a 100 ante, our Hero raised from the cutoff to 2,100 out of his 60,000 stack with AHeart Suit 9Heart Suit and both the small blind and big blind called.

Both players in the blinds should have a wide range including all sorts of pairs, aces, big cards, and middle and low suited and unsuited connectors. Hero’s AHeart Suit 9Heart Suit should have a bit of an equity advantage, putting him in decent shape.

The flop came QClub Suit 8Spade Suit 3Club Suit. Both blinds checked to Hero, who bet 4,000 into the 7,200 pot.

Many players opt to continuation bet every time when checked to, which is a substantial mistake, especially in multi-way pots. As players have learned to not fold every hand worse than top pair, betting with marginal made hands and junk has become a sub-optimal play. Some players feel like if they started with the best hand that they deserve to win post-flop, but when you completely miss the flop and it should connect well with the callers’ ranges, you should be content to check behind and hope to improve on the turn.

Only the small blind called the 4,000 bet. The turn was the ADiamond Suit, giving Hero top pair. The small blind checked and Hero checked behind.

Once Hero improves to top pair, he almost certainly has the best hand unless he is against 8-8, 3-3, A-8, or A-3. These hands should be only a small portion of the small blind’s range. If Hero makes a bet of about 6,000 into the 15,200 pot, he can realistically extract value from many worse made hands such as K-Q and 8-7 while also charging the obvious draws.

Hero later told me that he checked behind because he did not want to get check-raised. Most of the time, his opponent will either fold to or call a bet, especially when the turned ace should be much better for the preflop raiser than the preflop caller.

The river was the 5Diamond Suit. Both players checked.

Even more so than on the turn, Hero has a clear river value bet. When the small blind checks again, it is now incredibly unlikely that he can beat top pair with a decent kicker. His most likely holdings will be a pair of queens, a pair of eights, and busted draws. Against a strong professional opponent, a large bet with a wide range of value bets and bluffs may make sense due to there being many busted draws that would potentially like to bluff, but in this situation against an unknown player, it is probably smart to choose a bet size that can realistically get called by a marginal middle pair. For that reason, a bet of about 7,000 into the 15,200 pot is ideal.

After both players checked, the small blind showed Q-10 for second pair, and Hero proudly turned up his top pair, scooping a small pot.

Many novice players are happy whenever they win the pot, forgetting about all the value they left on the table. In this situation, the opponent would have certainly called one more bet and may have even called a turn and river bet, meaning Hero lost a huge amount of value. Do not be afraid to value bet, especially when it is quite possible your opponent has a worse marginal made hand that will not fold. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars by clicking here.