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Maximizing Value in a Poker Hand

One important aspect of poker strategy has to do with getting the most chips out of opponents. If you think you’re going to win the pot, you want to make that pot as big as possible. In order to accomplish this goal, you’ll need to consider a lot of factors. These include the size of the pot, the number of opponents in the pot, the table image of each individual person involved in the pot (yourself included). Other factors will include the size of everyone’s chip stack, the blind levels to some extent, pot odds and of course the exposed cards on the board.

Common betting “faux pas”

“I’m all in!” are words well all love to hear when we watch a poker game. While these are the exciting words we all live for, they are often used inappropriately. If you’re a conservative player involved in a $100 pot with two conservative opponents and you go all in for $1500 because you flopped a full house, I’m pretty sure you’re going to take down the $100 pot, watch the other two fold, and completely waste your great hand. I see it happen a lot when I play online. I’m not saying that there are not cases when you should go “all in” in a small pot, but typically that isn’t the best play.

Table Image

Your own table image is an important factor in how you should bet. If you are perceived as being super aggressive, as the player who loves to steal pots, then you can actually risk betting a large amount (like half the pot) and get a caller. If you think the opponent has an interest in the hand and they view you as a wild card, betting is a viable option. On the other hand, if you are a super tight player that folds constantly when under pressure, betting would be an error because it would clearly indicate strength on your part. Checking to the opponent and letting them try to bluff is the better play. But don’t just consider your own table image, consider the image of your opponent.

If you are facing a tight player, it’s usually harder to make the pot grow and a small bet is probably your best option. If you bet too much, you’ll scare them off, and if you check, they’ll often just check back and that does nothing to increase the pot value. On the other hand, if you’re facing an aggressive opponent, you have more options. You can check raise them and increase the pot value that way. A Check raise will usually result in them folding or reraising, often with an all in bet. If the pot is big enough and if they think they can get away with stealing it, they’ll go for it. Your best option is probably to check call them. Just let them bet into you, hesitates but finally call. Odds are they will bet into you again next round.

Chip Stack

If you’re in a position where you’ve got an opponent pot committed, meaning they’ve invested a significant portion of their stack in the pot and their only option is to play it to the end, then going “all in“ can be an appropriate play. In cases where you’re facing an opponent that has a lot more chips then you do, going all in could be a mistake, but letting the opponent bet into you might be the best option (especially when you’re facing an aggressive player). The idea is that big stacks generally want to be table bullies and push the small stacks around by betting into them. Let them put you all in, then double up and smile!

Blind Levels

In tournament poker, there is a point when small stacks have to pick a hand and go all in. The indicator of when this time is up is the value of the big blind in relation to the stack size of the player. When players have 10x the BB in chip, expect them to fold a lot unless they are in blind positions, and expect them to go all in pre-flop or immediately after the flop when they hit it (or decide to bluff). When you have a great starting hand and are facing a small stack who’s growing desperate, let them bet into you. Let’s say you have A-K and they go all in pre-flop, then obviously you’ll call them. But let’s say they call or check and you hit the flop, you want to check back to them.

The idea is to give them the rope they’ll eventually use to hang themselves. Just keep checking and if there is no action until the last betting round, then you have to make a decision. Should I check to them and risk that they’ll check as well and end up with no additional gain? Should I check to them and hope they’ll grow some balls and go all in? Should I just put them all in right now? This is a difficult call, but consider the player’s table image and your own to help you make that decision. A tight player with nothing will check back to you. If you bet, even a minimum bet, they’ll probably fold. At this stage, it’s typically “all in” or nothing, and that’s just the reality of the game.

Sometimes you just can’t manage the get more chips out of a player no matter how you play the hand. If you think you’re facing such a situation, I recommend going all in when your hand is strong. Make the player wonder if you’re bluffing and that is perhaps the only chance of getting called. If you let them lead, they probably won’t choose to risk what they have left.

Board Cards

When facing a “danger flop” which is a flop that includes a pair, a flush potential or a straight potential, and you’ve made three of a kind, the odds of someone else will make their flush is lower (unless of course there are many players involved in the hand). In cases like this, slow playing means risking loosing the lead to someone else if they make their flush or straight. Here is what I recommend in terms of an approach: If you are facing many opponents, you want to get some to fold so bet, and bet big. (at least half the pot). If you’re just facing one or two opponent, I like to let them chase cards for a small price. There is a risk to this approach: You may loose the lead if an opponent makes a straight or a flush, but mathematically speaking, the odds are in your favor so the risk is warranted. Never check and always bet, but bet just the right amount to give them the proper poker pot odds to call you. If you bet too much, they’ll probably fold and if you don’t bet enough, you won’t maximize the pot value.

There are of course other factors that come into play and I’ve listed a few more earlier, but what you need to remember is this: Getting the maximum pot value always has to do with an analysis of the situation at hand. If someone says you should play a certain way each and every time, then they’re giving you bad advice. Take the time to assess the situation and adapt your strategy to the conditions presented before you. This is the key. Always adapt your play to suit the conditions because the conditions will never adapt themselves to suit your play style.

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