What separates a good player from a great player? There are many answers to this inquiry, and without question one of the major things is the value bet. Missing value bets is what keeps many good players from taking that next step to understanding how to be a great player. This is fairly common sense when you think about it. If you have the best possible hand, the nuts, then you know you should bet, but getting full value out of less dominant hands is harder to do, and key to acquiring a healthy bank roll.
Value betting, like many of the more advanced concepts in poker, is very situational. The actual situation and opponent make a large difference in how you decide to play them, but even that said there are some generalities that good players are aware of when talking about value betting.
In limit hold ’em, for example, you should be very aggressive with betting. Since the bets are set at levels that make them so small in relation to the pot, people will often call your value bets with extremely weak hands. The general mind set is often that since the bets are so small, mine as well make sure the guy isn’t bluffing you. This is a fish mind set, and this is how you get the pot built up to pay you off when you hit that monster hand.
It should go without saying that value betting in a game of no limit hold ’em is much trickier. First, you absolutely must have an accurate read on what the other player has, and then you must have the courage to act on it. If you have third pair, but you KNOW that the player has something like A-Q and missed completely, are you willing to re-raise strong on a pair of fives? Putting an opponent on his cards is not only necessary to understand if you have him beaten, but if you have a hand of ‘hidden value’ such as a straight that isn’t obvious, it will help you decide how much you should bet.
Beyond that, a good value bet considers what specific type of player you’re going up against. A casual player will tend to call bets that are about as strong as his hand, meaning he won’t chase a large bet with pocket threes, so if you think a player has a weak hand, make sure the bet is not too large because you want a call. On the other side, if your opponent is a strong player, then they may try reading you, which means if you’re betting like high pair when you actually have a straight, and they have two pair, you can bet stronger and extract even more chips (maybe even all of them!) out of that misread.
Value betting is so situational and complex that it can never truly be taught. You learn it as you go along, analyze your own play and other players’ play and as you continue to understand the game, you will begin to figure out how to value bet and how to maximize your profits by doing so.