Looking at Value in Poker

There is a big difference between what your hand appears to be worth and what it actually is worth. Let us say that you are in the big blind and it is folded around to the button that makes it 3.5bb to go and you call with the Ks-Js. The flop comes 5d-5c-3h and you check and your opponent makes a c-bet of two thirds of the pot. If I were to ask you what the optimum play would be here then that would be the wrong question to ask. Clearly much depends on how aggressive or tight your opponent was.

Against many opponents then folding here would be automatic as we have nothing but some weak overcards. The absolute value of our hand is poor and our pot equity is very low – or is it? Remember that we do not always get to a showdown in no limit Texas hold’em because of the fact that it is only a two card game. Against very aggressive players who may be firing with nearly all of their pre-flop raising range then our hand has much better value than first appears. If our opponent is ultimately firing with fresh air then we both have a weak holding.

This is precisely what I mean by actual value and absolute value. In this instance then the absolute value dictates that we fold to the c-bet because we are weak. However if our opponent is also weak then we cannot simply check-fold all the time and simply let them win a “weak hand versus weak hand” contest. Whatever holding our opponent has that doesn’t involve them holding a pocket pair, a five or a three is going to look weak when confronted by aggressive action.

If you could turn your cards over and see that your opponent held A-K then what would your reaction be to the c-bet? If you chose to fold simply because of the absolute value of your K-J being behind their A-K then you would be making a big mistake in deep stacked no limit Texas hold’em. The bottom line is that your opponent holds almost the exact same weak one pair holding that you hold. Their hand is 5-5-3-A-K while your hand is 5-5-3-K-J. There is almost no difference in hand strength and that difference only comes into effect at showdown.

The fact of the matter is that our opponent holds the same category of hand that we hold which comes under the “weak” category. With deep stacks and further betting rounds to go then weak holdings simply cannot withstand any kind of heat. If we always allow our opponent to win these pots uncontested or allow them to see the showdown with weak but superior holdings then we will suffer as a result. If the board was 5-5-3-9-4 at showdown and our opponent held A-K compared to our K-J then their hand wins the pot just as surely as if they had held the nuts with a hand like quad fives.

This is exactly what I am talking about with regards to absolute value as opposed to actual value. The flop that we have just seen didn’t hit us which meant that our holding was weak in absolute terms. However our betting doesn’t have to automatically represent that and we can easily either call the c-bet with the express intention of taking the pot away from our opponent on a later betting round. In fact many really aggressive players look to try and maximise the amount of dead money in the pot before they try and bluff their opponents from the hand.

Quite often the most successful poker players are the ones that realise that you can also base your decisions on what your opponents likely haven’t got than what they have got. If you always go through your poker life with the belief that your opponents always have the nuts or other strong holdings then you are simply going to miss a lot of profitable opportunities playing poker. At a very basic level then poker hands fall into three categories and they are powerful hands, mediocre hands and weak hands.

Clearly powerful hands want to maximize the money that is in the pot. Mediocre hands probably want some value but not too much and want to see cheaper showdowns. Weak holdings either fold or bluff but this is where the actual value comes into play and why aggression is so important in poker. It should now become apparent that aggression in poker increases the actual value of your hand and makes the absolute value of it much less important. The best poker players in the world understand the power of actual value and base their decisions around that accordingly and this is why they are so successful.


Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker

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