How Value Propositions Actually Work In Poker

If you’ve ever watched two very good heads up players at work, one of the things that very often really stands out is how passively these players tend to play.  At first glance, a lot of less educated heads up players wonder if they are actually playing too passively, and in fact, they often are sure of it.


poker brakes

Knowing what makes for good value is a real key in achieving poker success

There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye in these matches though, and this feeling of not being aggressive enough results from not really understanding the dynamics of value propositions, in other words when it makes sense to bet for value and when it does not.


This is one of the things that I really started to think about a lot when I first became a heads up poker specialist, and it’s not something that heads up players tend to talk a lot about or teach very much on, so it’s really up to us as players to look to figure all of this out effectively.


Often, great players do not want to reveal their real secrets to others, so in a sense this all has been somewhat hidden away from the poker playing public in general, but I’m not out to hold anything back in my sessions with you, so I will look to give you an idea of what’s really going on here with all this.


Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem Of Poker


Sklansky’s Theorem is definitely one of my favorite poker ideas and there may be no situation where it’s more applicable than looking to determine value.  It says here that it’s a mistake to bet if it would be correct for our opponent to fold, and correct to bet only if the opponent would call (or raise) with less.


Of course we’re talking in general here, so this all really applies to situations where more often than not the desired outcome prevails.  So if I bet, for instance, and my opponent will call with a worse hand more often than call with a better one, then the move makes sense.


Of they will only call with better hands most of the time, then betting is clearly a mistake.  This can be a real eye opener when we look to apply this concept faithfully to our betting ranges, as we will very often find that it is too wide, and we are including a lot of unprofitable bets and raises in it.


How This Applies To Taking Pots Down


This idea also applies to fold equity, which is actually the reason why so many players think that great heads up players play too passively.  Although we are discussing value here primarily, it’s worth mentioning why this is the case.


If I believe that I have the best hand, but it’s probably only marginally better, then it actually doesn’t make sense for me to bet it.  If I do have the best hand after all, unless my opponent decides to do some betting, it will win at showdown anyway, so looking to take the pot down doesn’t have quite the same value as it may appear to.


On the other hand, if I’m called more often than not with better hands, I’m messing up here clearly, and even if I have an instant profit from getting enough folds, at least some of this profit could be captured by just looking to check the hand down.  This is especially true if my opponent understands the true nature of value betting and would therefore be more reluctant to bet out with a similar hand of marginal value.


So this is why you see so many hands checked down in a very good heads up poker match, and why it really may not make sense a lot of the time for players to take a stab at the pot.  Only the best heads up players understand this properly though, and to my knowledge, I don’t recall anyone going over this concept in any detail as I am doing for you.


I can’t emphasize enough how important of a concept this is though, not only to heads up play but to poker in general.  Fortunately, very few of our opponents actually understand it, a fact which we can use to our great benefit.


So What Does All This Mean For Us?


Once again, we need to take great care and err on the side of caution when it comes to looking to make value bets.  Even our fold equity bets need to be made with at least some restraint, especially against more passive opponents.  Of course, with hands that have little showdown value, we can look to take down pots with those with little fear of messing up, as long as we have enough fold equity to make sense of the move.  With the hands that have some showdown value but not enough to bet, it often is preferable to take a more passive line, even if this means looking to goad our opponents into making the bluff if we have enough to call them down with.


As I mentioned in the last article, the decision to pursue value is going to depend a lot on how tight they are, with our needing to be more careful the tighter their calling or raising ranges are.  So what kind of ranges are we talking about here, and how are we going to decide this?  I’ll speak more about that in the next article.