Did I really miss a value bet?

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In a recent $1-$2 no-limit hold’em game several players told me I had missed a value bet on the river. The hand played like this: I was on the button with {5-Spades}{6-Spades} (there’s a $2 blind on the button) with no other players entering the pot. I raised to $11 to steal the blinds. The small blind called and the big blind folded, making the pot $24.

The flop was {j-Clubs}{7-Spades}{8-Hearts}. The small blind (a somewhat tight-aggressive player) bet $10. I called, making the pot $44.

I immediately think he must have A-J or K-J, the types of hands he would call with preflop for $11 and the $10 bet is how he bets when he has a piece of the flop. Betting patterns are the truest form of all tells, and my opponent just told me what I needed to know.

My image at the table is that of a tight player, which couldn’t be any further from the truth. However, I enjoy this image, which makes it easier to expand my range of hands in late position and steal small pots with small bets. My opponents can’t put me on {5-Spades}{6-Spades} for an $11 bet preflop.

If I miss the turn I can fold face up to show I’m capable of playing any two cards and that I’ve mixed up my play and betting patterns to keep my opponents guessing. My total investment into the hand is $21 of which $2 was my button blind, a small price to invest to keep opponents off guard. I also love this table; my $200 buy-in grew to $350 in less than an hour. I don’t want to change anything about this table.

The turn was the {4-Diamonds}. I made my straight. My chip stack was about $350 before the hand as his was about $85. He bet $10 and I raised to $40. He called.

The pot was $124 and my opponent had bet $61 of his $85 stack. I know he only has one pair; this is where I find most players really don’t understand what a true value bet may be.

Most players think they can extract the last dollar out of their opponents and this is the value they deserve for the hand they’ve won. Please think about what I said earlier in the article, “I don’t want to change anything about this table.” If at this point you still don’t get what I’m trying to say you need to understand that one bet may change things so dramatically on the table that the game becomes less profitable and more difficult to make money.

The river was the {j-Diamonds}. If my opponent had a pair of jacks he now has three of them. This is where everyone told me I missed a value bet. My opponent had $24 left; I could’ve easily bet that amount and received value for my hand.

I checked and my opponent took more than a minute before saying: “I don’t want to get greedy.” He turned over K-J for three jacks; and of course I turned over the straight.

You must know now he was concerned about his money. He was happy to win that pot without betting his last $24. At this point he got up and went for a walk before coming back to the game several minutes later. In his absence several players told me how I had missed a value bet and how I missed his last $24.

I tried to justify my check as a bad play and let them think that my play was poor, without admitting it. I tried to justify my play with several different reasons, none of which would or could be understood by these players; which is my intention.

When my opponent returned to the table I told him how lucky I was to have made the straight and how I was only trying to steal the blinds with my $11 bet; to which he whole-heartily agreed. By the way, he had returned with $200.

So to those of you who still think I missed the value bet; the game didn’t change. I still had a tight-aggressive player to my left and now had several players thinking a lot less of my game. I can tell you that sometimes sacrificing one bet for value can create much more value in the long run.

I never try to embarrass or slight a player that may not have the best skills. Not taking the $24 value bet was worth so much more.

— Antonio Pinzari is the former host of Poker Wars and has been playing poker professionally since the ’70s.