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Tournament tips: Betting small for value on the river

Tournament tips: Betting small for value on the river

It’s natural to get greedy in a poker hand and go for it all with a big value bet on the river. We all want to win the most in any given spot, but what if the most you can ever win is actually very little?

That’s where betting small for value on the river becomes our best course of action. These spots might be rare, but it’s important we recognise them.

That’s why Jordan “bigbluffzinc” Drummond (a.k.a. BBZ) dedicates a video to this spot in his brand new River Simplifications Bundle, which you can get hold of today.

Let’s get into it.

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River Simplifications

Don’t be left without a paddle


In the video, BBZ has set up a toy game that will produce an outcome where betting small as the in-position (IP) player actually works.

Here’s the situation:

We’ve reached the river in a heads-up hand where the board reads 22233.

For the sake of this toy game, the out-of-position (OOP) player can only have pocket aces and pocket queens, while the IP player can only have pocket aces, pocket queens and pocket fours. There is overlap between these two ranges, so they can block each other.

“When IP has pocket aces, IP knows that OOP is more likely to have pocket queens,” says BBZ. “You substantially reduce the probability that you’re up against pocket aces, and of course there’s no value in pocket aces anyway [as you’d split the pot if called]. So all the value is going to come from pocket queens.”

With only two combos in our opponent’s range, we can do the math very quickly. What happens if IP bets pot? What’s the OOP counter-strategy?

“Call 50%, and what’s 50% going to be? Well, there are only two hands! Fold queens, call aces,” BBZ explains.

Clearly, there’s no EV in betting pot for IP. Betting pot will not generate incremental EV for pocket aces. “If you bet pot with aces you’re only getting called by aces, congratulations.”

TIP: For more river tips, check out our article: 3 tips for playing the river in poker tournaments

So we now enter a world where the maximum bet size is going to need to be much smaller than pot, as pot simply fails as a bet size. We need to generate EV, so how should we play our range?

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“We check pocket queens, bet pocket aces, and bluff with pocket fours,” says BBZ. “EV comes from the fraction of OOP’s pocket queens that need to defend to prevent pocket fours from bluffing all the time.”

According to the solver, OOP should be mixing between checking and betting 10%. Strategically they’re almost the same, as betting 10% is comparable to checking.

“If OOP were to bet half pot then IP has to defend with 67% of the range, which in this case is a call with pocket aces and pocket queens and a fold with pocket fours,” says BBZ.

So let’s assume OOP checks. IP is never betting pot as explained.

In this spot, the nuts is 50% of OOP’s range. The only way to generate EV for the nuts when IP has the nuts is to drive the defending frequency higher than 50%.

“That’s why betting pot sucks,” says BBZ. “Using really small bets like 30% is a way to drive the defending frequency up and force the OOP to include weaker hands in their defending strategy which go beyond pocket aces.”

Both players have the nuts very often in this toy game. Essentially, it’s a game of trying to get value from the very small fraction of your opponent’s range which is not the nuts. The only way to do that on a consistent basis is to bet really small and force the defending frequency to go through the roof so that the really weak hands end up being included in the defending strategy.

How does this relate to real play?


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Let’s say UTG opens and you flat from UTG+1 and the flop is KQ10. It goes check check and the turn is a 9. It goes check check again and the river is a J.

“Both players have probably checked down with ace-high hands, right? So both players have a straight here a lot,” says BBZ. “Even if the OOP player checks, the OOP player knows that the IP player has a straight a lot. So OOP needs to check straights a lot too to deal with that. Even after OOP checks, OOP still has the nuts often, as does IP. Perhaps the best way to extract value is to bet smaller than half pot.”

These are the types of scenarios that produce this “bet sizing phenomena”, as BBZ calls it. They don’t come up often, but it’s worth thinking about if you’re interested in squeezing out the extra little bit of EV in those spots.

Don’t just blindly bet pot when you’re value betting, or bluffing for that matter.

“You’re probably going to get called by the nuts at a frequency that destroys the EV of those bluffs, making it not indifferent but, rather, negative,” says BBZ.

In the River Simplifications Bundle, BBZ uses toy games and river hand-analysis to take one of the least understood aspects of poker and make it simple and easy to understand. Check out the bundle today!

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River Simplifications

Don’t be left without a paddle

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