Table of Contents.
1. What's a valuebet? And what isn't?
2. What's a bluff? And what isn't?
3. What is "showdown value"? And how can I tell I have any?
4. Piecing the puzzle together.
5. General rules at the microstakes.
I wanted to make a very basic guide for beating microstakes poker (originally posted this as a sort of 1k post on another forum). I would have benefitted greatly from a strictly ABC guide to poker, concentrating on postflop play. I never found it, and it took me a long time to figure this stuff out, possibly because I'm somewhat dimwitted. I hope some of you will benefit from my stupidity. I present this guide in all modesty: I might be wrong about a lot of things, but I think if you think about the concepts here, you should be well on your way to beating ÁNL.
Please PM me with any remarks or examples. Maybe I can make a second edition or so after a while. I'm sure I make some fundamental mistakes, and that my examples aren't always great. There's spots where I have doubts myself. I'm just trying to offer a framework for thinking about when you should bet, and when you should check.
The advice here is pretty categoric sometimes. This is because I feel that at the micro's there's no need to be fancy or to bet thin. Just try to get your check/bet/fold decisions optimized, and don't worry about being "exploitable", or "vanilla" or "weaktight". Just try to make money to move beyond 50NL. Also, please don't tell me that all this advice sucks at 100nl and above. I know this already.
1. What's a valuebet, and what isn't?
You have heard a lot about valuebets (usually with the word "thin" in front of it). You should be valuebetting a lot and very "thin". But what is a valuebet?
A valuebet is a bet that will be called by enough worse hands to make it a profitable (+EV) move.
You raise in MP with A
, you get a call from the CO.
Flop comes Q
A bet here is clearly a valuebet, because there's hardly any better hands in villain's range to start with (he would probably 3bet AA, KK and QQ preflop).
Villain will call a bet here with: KQ,QJ,QT,JJ,J9 and maybe some stuff like KT,AT,JT if he thinks your just making a random c-bet with air. Note that we don't beat every hand in his calling range: QT > AQ. It's not important. A valuebet is not a bet that will never get called or raised by better hands. It's a bet that's profitable because *enough* worse hands will call to make it +EV.
Our range for betting here is at least: AA-QQ, AQ,KQ,QJ,AT,KT,55 and lots of broadway cards, gutshots and even air. Villain can easily assume that his second or third best hand is good enough to call here (KQ,QJ, JJ and even AT can easily assume it's good; draws will obv call because of implied odds). So this is clearly a profitable situation, and a bet here is clearly a valuebet.
Note however that I said: *enough* worse hands. This isn't the same as a bet that will be called by worse hands. Theoretically, every bet could be called by worse hands. What you want is to assign a range to villain with *enough* worse hands that will call, so that your bet is profitable.
You raise in MP with A
, you get a call from the CO.
Flop comes Q
Here, you will and should probably bet your entire PFR range (let's say AK-AT, all PP's, all suited broadways and KQo+). But this is not a valuebet, because although you will be called by worse hands (this is the micro's, they'll call with ATC, right?), there won't be enough of them in villain's range. There's hardly any draws that will peel here, there's a lot of pocket pairs in villain's range that he will call with (and that beat us), and there's even a lot of AX hands that beat us (AK,AQ, A7, A3).
Turn comes J
Should you bet? Probably not at the micro's (not sure myself tbh, but I'm inclined to think not). At this point, there is no value whatsoever left in betting. Again: there might be villains who will call here with TT-88, and even bottom pair, and it's easy to think: "I have second pair top kicker kicker, no way he has a Q, I bet." If that is what you regularly do, you have just found the reason why you are not beating microstakes.
This is not a valuebet, because it will never be called by any hand that is worse than yours. In fact, you are folding out every hand that is worse (because they see the Q and the J on board, and they think: 'no way my 77 is good here').
A common expression is that at the microstakes, "you can just take villains to valuetown". I used to think that this meant that I should just keep firing with any piece of the board. It doesn't.
It just means that you should hardly ever bluff (which is the opposite of a valuebet).
It means that, as long as villain's range can reasonably have enough worse hands in it, you can usually keep betting without being afraid that you will be outplayed. It means that, usually, you can go for three streets of value with AT on a T hi board, as long as villain has a reason to believe that his worse hand is good. Also because mostly, villains will announce when they beat TPTK by raising the turn.
Ok, so we check the turn, and villain checks behind.
River comes 5
Can we valuebet? Yes.
By calling the flop but checking behind on the turn, villain let us know that he has showdown value, but he's not strong enough to valuebet himself. He probably has some middle pocket pair, or A7 or something, or random air. By not betting the turn ourselves, we have announced pretty clearly that we don't have a Q. Since we should bluff here fairly often, villain should call here with a very wide range. KJ,JT,TT-88, maybe A7. Yes, he will sometimes have a set, 2P, AQ, or the gutshot straight with 64. Yes, he will fold his club draws and all the backdoor draws like A5. But all in all, I think we can bet here for value, because villain can and probably should call with enough worse hands to make this a profitable bet.
Do we HAVE to valuebet here? No. If you are not entirely sure of your handreading skills, there is no need to valuebet here at the micro's. This is a "thin" valuebet, but there is enough profit to be made by making "fat" valuebets at the micro's.
You raise in CO with Q
, BTN calls.
Flop comes 6
When we bet, villain can and should call with at least AT,KT,QT,JT,T9,T8, club draws, open ended straight draws and maybe some gutshots with overcards like KQ or so. Plus sets, two pairs, and made straights. Is this a valuebet? Yes. I think it's not even thin, although there's obviously more hands that beat us here than in example 1. You bet, villain calls.
Turn comes 8
, so the board now looks:
If we bet here, are there still worse hands in villains range that he will call us with? This is already a lot thinner. He will probably still call with all his TP hands (AT to T7, let's say). Let's assume his range was evenly distributed between TP hands and draws (FD and SD's). OESD's now came in, he probably won't continue with his gutshots with overs (KQ).
But the chance is higher that he had a FD than a SD, because there's more club draw combinations than combinations of QJ, and villain is somewhat less likely to call a bet with a mere 7X gutshot.
There's only one TP hand we beat anymore (assuming he didn't call with T5 and under), and we beat only the FD's. Nevertheless, a bet here could still be a valuebet, but it will be thin. We bet to get value from FD's and to prevent FD's from getting a free card ("bet for protection"). We will be forced to fold if villain raises.
River comes Q
so the board now looks
We made two pair. What hands will still call us that we beat? The flush draws will fold anyway to a bet. AT and KT will probably fold to any bet, because it is so likely that we have either a J or a 7, based on our betting pattern. It is also very likely that villain has a J or a 7 based on his play. He would probably have raised a 2P like T9 on the flop, and T8 or 98 on the turn, because microstakes players horribly overplay their 2P (it's strong against TP, but it gets outdrawn frequently, so they want to get the money in fast).
In short, there is NO value in a bet here, imo. This is the mistake most micro players make: they will bet here, because 2P is a "strong hand". It might be, but not on this board, and not after how the play went. After they bet, the donk will call with 75o or something, and they will say: "how is it possible that this retard doesn't put me on KJ or something?" Well, because he can't handread.
Mind you: it's not that he will not or can not call with worse hands. He might call with AQ. But: is AQ still in his range often enough? It shouldn't, and you shouldn't assume it still is. He might still call with T9/T8/98/T6o, in fact it's perfectly possible that he's a retard that will call with T6. But not often enough to make a bet here profitable.
I think this is probably the mistake I made when starting out. I was always thinking: well, he could still call with (fill in theoretical hand that could indeed call). This is not enough to make your bet a valuebet.
Until you can narrow ranges down accurately, it's probably not a good idea to valuebet very thin. It's very macho to say "I valuebet thin here". But if you're not sure that you're actually valuebetting, you're not valuebetting thin. You're just giving money away to the donks.
2. What's a bluff?
A bluff is a bet that will get enough better hands to fold, or a bet that will fold out a better hand often enough to make it a profitable (+EV) move.
You should not be bluffing "thin" when you play microstakes NL. By this I mean: talking yourself into a bluff because "he's a complete donk if he doesn't fold TPTK here". Most people cannot find the fold button if their life depended on it in ÁNL. Also, most people don't handread well enough at ÁNL to realise that you are representing a strong hand. They think: I have a pair, so I will see a showdown. Generally, good spots to bluff (let's call them "fat bluffs") will be instantly recognisable.
Say you have 89o on a KT7ss board, and you are in position. Villain c-bets and you call. Turn brings another flushcard, and villain shuts down. This might be a good opportunity to bluff. Villain might have TP, 2P, second pair or a better draw than you (QJ) that he's willing to fold here. He might even be weaktight enough to fold a set (ÁNL players don't like monotone boards). Mind, he could also have complete air. But in general, a bluff here will fold out *enough better* hands (especially if it's backed up with a read that he has weaktight tendencies) to make it profitable.
Before you bet, you should ask yourself: am I valuebetting, or bluffing? A lot of the time if you're a struggling ÁNL player, you will have to admit that you don't really know. You just feel that you should keep betting, because not betting is "weak", and "this donk could have any piece of the board and he will call with it". This is why you're not beating the micro's. As a beginning player, you should know exactly if you're bluffing (and you shouldn't do that often) or valuebetting (this is where your profit is).
So, when can you bluff? ONLY when villain has a range with hands that are better than your hand. This is necessary to call your bet a bluff. Before you bluff, then, you should
1. Know that villain actually has a better hand than you a lot of the time.
2. Know that the board and the action will convince him that your range > his hand.
3. Know which better hands in his range you want to fold out.
If you are a beginning player and your handreading sucks, this is only possible when villain shows obvious weakness, and you have absolute air. In most other case, when villain shows "a little bit of weakness" or is sending mixed signals (checkraising the flop big but checking the turn for instance) and you have a hand that's "quite a lot better than air but quite a bit worse than the nuts", it's probably better to check to see a cheap showdown. This is called showdown value. Showdown value is your friend (see chapter 3).
If a bluff is designed to fold out better hands, it follows that at the micro's, you should almost never bluff in big pots. Why? Because there is a lot of money already in the pot. This is only possible if villain has shown to you that he has no intention of folding, because he feels his hand is strong. This means that his range is probably made up of more nut type hands than air or marginal hands.
Also, there is a thing called pot odds that you probably know (I remember knowing advanced concepts like "rangemerging" before actually grasping what valuebetting was). The bigger the pot, the less scary a big bet is for villain, because he has great actual pot odds, and almost no reversed implied odds, because your stack is already partly or largely in the pot. You have no weapons left.
The pots where you should bluff are the small ones, where you can feel villains hesitation: "Am I behind or ahead? Is it worth it to call this for this smallish pot?" Villains will talk themselves into folding small pots a lot more often. Why? Because your stack is a weapon, and the pot is a shield. A bet is more threatening when there's lots of money behind: your weapon looks dangerous compared to the shield. When the shield is big, your weapon doesn't look so scary.
3. What is "showdown value"?
You are on the BTN and raise 74o (don't do this obviously until you know you can afford to) and you get a call from the BB.
Flop comes K
Villain checks, you make a standard c-bet and get called.
Turn comes 4
Villain checks. It's probably best NOT to bet here. Why? Because paired flops are hard to hit, and villain probably realises this. Unfortunately, this also goes for him. He did not show a lot of strenght by c/c'ing the flop c-bet instead checkraising or leading it.
He probably feels he has showdown value, but not a great hand. Alternatively, he's trapping and planning a checkraise. About the only hands that we beat here are A hi and 33. The rest of his range are PP > 44 and KX, 2X hands. There's just no point in putting money into the pot, because he probably won't call with the AX hands or 33 (he'll now sigh and say: "ok, he has a K"), but I don't think he'll fold many better hands (maybe 55-77).
So what happened on the turn? Our air hand just got showdown value against A hi hands, which makes up a lot of his range. You can't bet for value here because your hand is only marginally better than air, but you can't bluff because you won't fold out better hands.
You have showdown value when there's a chance that your hand will hold up at the showdown.
It's usually used when you have nothing BUT showdown value, meaning that you could be ahead or behind, but you can't valuebet because no worse hand will call, and you can't bluff because no better hand will fold.
We have showdown value, so we try to see a cheap showdown. We check behind.
Suppose the turn came Q
Villain checks. Bet this probably. Why? Because we have no showdown value at all, but we can fold out hands like JJ-33. If you get called/raised here, you can be sure that your hand is worthless. How worthless? Not sure.
Now say you bet the Q turn and the river is a 7 or a 4. Villain checks to us. Here you either check back or bet. Mind you, if you check, it's NOT because you have SD value. It's because you think villain will never fold. You are just letting go of the hand, you have air now. If you bet, it's because you think villain has a weakish hand that he's willing to fold (you are bluffing).
!! You are not checking for showdown value here, and you are never betting for value!!
What I want to show is that showdown value on the turn is not necessarily SD value on the river and vice versa. And that a bet on the turn with second pair doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as a bet on the river. Again, you should think very hard about why you are betting and why you are checking.
4. Piecing the puzzle together
This is by far the hardest part, but I'll try to give you a decision tree that should serve you well at the microstakes. Whenever you are faced with a decision, aks yourself this question first:
1. Can I valuebet?
If the answer is YES, proceed to valuebet.
If the answer is NO, ask yourself
2. Do I have showdown value?
If the answer is YES, you should probably check (especially in position).
If the answer is NO, ask yourself
3. Do I have Fold Equity (can I fold out enough better hands than mine)?
If the answer is YES, you might (I SAID MIGHT) consider bluffing. You should be aware that bluffing is not a very useful tactic against calling stations.
So the decision tree looks like this
YES => BET
DO I HAVE SD VALUE?
YES => CHECK /fold
DO I HAVE FOLDING EQUITY?
DO I REALLY REALLY HAVE FE?
YES => maybe maybe maybe bluff
NO => fold/check
5. General rules at the microstakes.
You noticed that I didn't mention raising. This is because I think that you can probably AUTOFOLD every time a villain raises if you don't hold the nuts or the second nuts and still make 5PTBB+ at the micro's.
Your objective should be to valuebet/valuebet/valueshove your good hands. If you c-bet with air and you get called, you can probably give up, esp OOP. No use "second barreling" or "third barreling with air" at the micros. No use trying to put villain on AK when he checkraises you all in on a scary turn and you have an underpair. Just fold. Wait for the next hand, and bet/bet/shove.
Good luck at the tables.