The Art of Thin Value Betting
Wednesday, 4 January 2012
By Andrew Moseley
I want to share some of my thinking behind thin value betting and when it should be executed against different types of opponents. Thin value-betting is one of those sexy poker terms that people like to throw around without much inclination of how or when to utilise it. In basic terms a thin value bet is when you make a bet for value with a marginal hand.
The standard play might often be to check for pot control, and in general, when there is a "standard" play, it's usually there for a reason, so don't go crazy trying to make thin value-bets in unnecessary spots. The aim of this article is to try to demonstrate the circumstances when thin value betting is profitable.
In general, there are going to be two completely different sets of opponents to thin value-bet against. First is the simpler opponent, the fishy calling station. It is fairly obvious that you should thin value-bet players with a tendency to call more than they should because they are going to have a much wider / weaker calling range on the river. The logic behind when to thin value-bet versus these players is simple: just use the information you have on the weakness of the holdings with which they are prepared to call rivers and widen your value range accordingly. If you are noticing that certain players are calling large river bets with second or third pair, it becomes fairly obvious that making huge river bets with top-pair no kicker is now mandatory.
The second type of player to thin value-bet against is the good, thinking regular. More skill is required to find suitable spots against these players, as they are generally going to have much more reasonable calling ranges. However, it’s important to learn when thin value-bets become profitable against other good players, and you are going to become much harder to play if you are capable of value-betting a wide range of hands.
There are going to be certain board types where good players are going to be far more likely to bluff catch versus other aggressive regulars. In general, boards that everyone recognises are good to bluff are going to be ones on which stubborn regulars might decide to make light call downs. The classic example of a board like this might be 2-2-6 -T-K.
Good players often fire three times here, as the board runs out well for the pre-flop raiser. Regulars will not like to fold against aggressive players in these spots and this is why it becomes a good board to value bet thinly on. When I see good players bet three times on this board, they are often very polarised on the river. When they make a near pot-sized bet on the king river it can become obvious that they either have nothing or A-K+. This makes it much easier for people to hero-call in this situation.
However, in these spots, if you are betting the river with, say, 9-T or better, you can actually expect to be called by worse quite often. Besides, when the board runs out like this, T-9 is pretty likely to be the best hand on the river anyway, as most of the villain’s flop check-calling hands are 6x and small / medium pairs. It is very important to realise that value-betting in spots like this is only profitable against other regulars who understand how often you are likely to be bluffing here and are capable of hero-calling. A further benefit to value betting wide in situations like this is, once other regulars realise how balanced you are and how many hands you are value betting, your bluffs become much more successful too.
Considering your image at the table before trying to pressure regulars into hero-calling you down when you are thin value-betting is essential. It is going to be far less profitable to try and get looked up light when you have the image of the biggest rock at the table. Opponents will just assume that you somehow have it yet again and will not be prepared to hero call you with marginal holdings. Thin value-betting is, in general, far more profitable when you have an aggressive, bluffy image – people will be far more suspicious and will be far more tempted to pay you off.
Examples successful and unsuccessful thin value-bets
I played a hand in the Bellagio last summer against Nenad Medic which is relevant to the concepts highlighted in this article. I had an extremely active image and had been running over the table without showdown. We are playing $25-$50, nine-handed. Nenad, who has a 20k stack, opens UTG to $200. The cut off, a regular, also with 20k, 3-bets to $750. I call on the button with T-T (20k). Nenad calls. The flop come 8h4s2c. Action is checked to me and I bet $1,450 into $2,250 – a fairly standard spot to bet to protect my hand and possibly extract value from Nenad. I am assuming that the pre-flop 3-bettor is check-folding as he is fairly straightforward. Nenad calls and the 3-bettor folds. The turn is the Kd. Nenad checks, I bet 3,450 into 5,150 and Nenad calls. There are pretty much no kings in Nenad’s range. He now probably doesn’t think I am going to bet medium over-pairs. If he thinks I am polarised to having a set or nothing, then he might be tempted to make a light call down.
The river is Ad. This is a great card for me to make a thin value-bet versus a good player, as it’s such a good bluffing card. I also can’t really have many aces in my range, which is going to make my opponent suspicious. Nenad hardly ever has an ace, unless he has A-8 suited which I don’t think he raises UTG nine-handed. I bet 7,200 into 12,050 and he calls and mucks.
The next hand occurred while playing £10-£25, five-handed at the Palm Beach. Everyone was sitting with around 10,000. I make a raise pre-flop to £100 with J-J and John Duthie defends his blind. The flop comes down Tc8h7d. John check-calls £175. It’s a standard continuation bet from me with an over-pair and a gutshot. I’m very confident I have the best hand when John check-calls but he is tricky enough to slowplay something. The turn is the Kc.
I think I’m expected to bluff this card a lot and there are loads of pair-plus-draw hands which call a bet, so I decide to bet £400 into £550. John pretty quickly calls. He can’t have many kings apart from K-T and K-9, and as he was playing fairly snug and so I didn’t think his range pre- was that wide.
The river is Th. John checks and there is 1,350 in the pot. I thought the only hand I am beat by is 10x so decided to bet 1,000 as the Duth-dog loves calling my river bets and nothing would have been sweeter than showing him two jacks and taking the pot. In hindsight, this was far too thin and he tank-called me with K-J to win the pot.
In conclusion, thin value betting is something which is only going to be profitable if executed under near perfect circumstances. For it to work, you need to have the correct image, the correct perception of your opponent and a good idea of what your table image is. Initially work on value betting lighter versus calling stations and once you are more comfortable doing that you can begin to try and find good spots to value bet against tougher, thinking regulars.