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Texas Hold'em No Limit Intermediate

Poker and Rational Thinking - Part 1

9,970 Views on 8/12/14
Article image
- Conventional Poker Logic
- Why it's Incomplete pokerimage
- Modern Logic with Examples

In this two part series we will be examining concepts that originated in the dark ages of poker and have stuck with us until modern times, causing confusion and difficulty to novices and professionals alike. In part 1 we are going to consider the terms "value-betting" and "bluffing" and examine why they can be extremely limiting when helping us to develop a good strategy in Texas Hold'em.

Conventional Logic

"You are either value-betting or you are bluffing"

The terms "value-bet" and "bluff" are really designed to help us think about our reason for betting. Conventional poker logic tells us that we should either be value-betting or bluffing any time we take an aggressive action. Is this really the case? Let's first examine the traditional definition of these terms.

Value-Bet - We expect to have the best hand frequently and we expect our opponent to call with worse so we bet. In order for a value bet to be profitable it is necessary to have over 50% equity against our opponents continuing range. If we have less than 50% equity it won't generally be profitable - so even if opponent may occasionally call with worse we will still lose money in the long run

Bluff - We don't expect to have the best hand but we think we can get our opponent to fold to a bet. We expect him to be folding frequently enough vs our bet-sizing that we will profit. If villain doesn't fold frequently enough we won't make a profit even if he sometimes folds.

Many players have come to realise this is an incomplete model and consider a third reason for betting.

Protection - We actually expect to have the best hand pretty frequently, but our hand is not strong enough to bet for value. We expect betting to be good, but this is primarily to take down the pot. It would be incorrect to refer to this line as a bluff however, since traditionally the idea behind bluffing is to fold out better hands and our hand is actually best pretty frequently.

We are getting a little bit closer to the mark by adding the third type of bet to the list, but in reality - poker is still not this simple.

Incomplete Terminology

pokerimageThe problem lies in trying to fit our reasons for betting into clearly defined categories. Doing so can be restrictive and can frequently blind us to the best play. As poker players  we are primarily concerned about the expected-value of our line - not whether we should refer to our line as a bluff, value-bet, or protection-bet.

Let's consider 2 examples where a more modern approach is used to analyse our reasons for betting.

Modern Logic - Example 1

100bb stacks. Hero opens on CO to 3bb with Ts7s. BTN calls. Blinds fold. Flop is Tc4h3d. Hero?

It may be true in this case that we have over 50% equity vs our opponents calling range in this case and we can consider it a "value-bet", but is this really true when we consider this play in the context of what may happen on the turn and river. Can we bet turn again for value if something like a Qc comes? What about any other card? Assuming we check the turn how would you rate our chances of getting to showdown?

If we are playing vs an aggressive player and rarely get to showdown  is it really correct to refer to the flop bet as a value-bet purely because we have over 50% equity vs our opponent's calling range?

pokerimageDoes this mean that we should check then since betting the flop is not technically a value-bet if we take into account future play? Not necessarily. Imagine the scenario where we check flop vs an aggressive opponent. Our chances of reaching showdown are still pretty low. Conversely, betting the flop may actually show a long term profit, despite us not being able to explicitly define it as a value-bet.

We could try and categorise our flop bet as specifically a protection bet (out of the 3 it's probably most accurate to refer to it like this since it is clearly not a bluff or value-bet). In reality though it's more useful to list the pros and cons of each line. Let's list the pros for betting - likely the stronger line here. The rest of the pros and cons you can fill in for yourself.

- We protect ourself vs worse hands. (It's not a big deal if opponent folds something like K9s here since this hand can do us a lot of damage on later streets).
- We protect ourself from being bluffed. (Very important and often overlooked. Betting for protection is not just about protecting our equity, it's about protecting ourself from being bluffed when we are perceived to be weak).
- We simultaneously extract value from some worse hands. Opponent may actually call us with worse pairs like 99 and then check down.
- We likely have 5 good outs even if opponent has us beat. We can bet turn and river for value if we hit.
- We build a pot. This is great if we hit a value hand on turn and river but can also be beneficial if we decide to bluff.
- We don't cause our perceived range to become capped and can turn our hand into a bluff on later streets.

Example 2

Eg.2 100bb effective stacks. CO opens to 3bb. Hero calls on BTN with Ad9d. Flop is Th7h5d.
Villain cbets 4bb into the 6.5bb pot. Hero raises to 12bb.

Value-raise or bluff-raise?

It probably falls most accurately into the bluff-raise category. But it doesn't fit completely, we should be able to see that this raise has elements of protection and value also.

pokerimageA reasonable amount of our opponents calling range may actually be worse hands here. For example our opponent may call with flush-draws or straight draws which our A-high is good against. We can't exactly refer to this as a value-raise though since we won't have over 50% equity vs our opponent's calling range. Yet we can't ignore the fact that sometimes we may raise flop, fire turn, and check river where our A-high ends up being good. It's true that our primary intention was to bluff, but we can't ignore the additional expectation that arises from the showdown value of our hand. The expectation would certainly be higher than taking the line with two blank cards.

We can also consider our flop raise a protection raise. Some of the hands we are folding out with our flop raise we actually beat anyway. Vs a wide CO opening range there is a reasonable chance we actually have the best hand. This is one reason why it's impossible for the hand to fit squarely into the bluff category - the traditional definition of a bluff is raising with the intention of folding out better hands. Here we are raising primarily with the intention of bluffing, but are aware (and perfectly happy about the fact) that a lot of the hands that fold may be worse hands. We are protecting our equity and protecting ourself from getting bluffed on later streets.

Conventional poker logic forces players to assume that their bluffing range must always be polarized which is not actually the case. Hopefully we can see why "bluff-raising" the flop with something like 88 and firing a decent amount of turns with the intention to check back the river can be considered as a reasonable option. An additional advantage to such a line is we feel less pressure to bluff the river when we have a small measure of showdown value, as opposed to always raising the flop polarized and being forced to bluff river when we hold a 6-high busted draw.

So the terminology is useless?

The terms value, bluff, and protection are still extremely useful, mainly for discussing strategy with other poker players. They help to indicate the reasoning behind our decisions  when it is not immediately apparently.

However we also should understand that our actual thought processes should be significantly deeper and more complex then simply assigning our bet into 1 of 3 ready-made categories.



I am of British nationality and go by the online alias w34z3l. I am considered one of the top consultants in the field for technical analysis (i.e. database work) and application of game theory concepts to various card games. I make a ... Read More


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