The longer I’ve played poker, the more I’ve become convinced that a single concept is truly at the core of nearly all successful strategies. It’s a concept that is as important in no-limit hold’em as it is in limit stud eight-or-better. This central concept is extracting thin value.
It’s a simple idea. On the final betting round, you have an OK hand. It’s the sort of ho-hum hand that you get a dozen or more times in a session. But given the way this particular pot has played out, you think it’s better than whatever your opponent has. You bet the hand, your opponent calls, and you win.
Even though the idea is simple, the gap between players who consistently find thin value and those who don’t is massive. Finding thin value doesn’t mean just making a few extra bucks with your so-so hands. It also means being able to bluff more frequently and more profitably. It also means making your bets on earlier streets carry more leverage. Players who consistently find thin value will find that nearly every action they take in a hand, beginning with their decision to enter the pot, is more profitable.
How can this one little aspect of the game be so important? Let’s look at an example in no-limit hold’em.
It’s a $2-$5 game with $500 stacks. You open for $20 from three off the button with the A 10. The button calls, and so does the big blind.
The flop comes 10 8 6. The big blind checks, you bet $50 into the $62 pot, the button folds, and the big blind calls.
The turn is the 2. The big blind checks, you bet $120 into the $162 pot, and he calls.
The river is the K. The big blind checks, and you bet $180 into the $402 pot.
If you’re like most no-limit players, you are likely saying to yourself, “I would never bet that river. What does he call me with?” And it is indeed possible that, given the way you play today and what your regular opponents know about you, they won’t call you with anything you beat. However, I would argue that if you make a habit of betting more rivers — a lot more rivers — you will find that this is a great river to bet for value against many opponents.
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