Even though thin value betting really is the key to increase your winrate in live NLHE games I am still amazed that people do it so infrequently at the lower stakes, especially in position. If you are familiar with my training material over on CrushLivePoker.com you may have seen or heard me use the term “showdown monkeys”. This term refers to the rampant trend of people checking behind on the river in position with hands that are strong enough to value bet. Why do people do this? I am fairly certain that it has something to do with them not wanting to open the betting back up. The funny thing, though, as I have talked about this in this column before, the frequency of check raise bluffing that goes on at the mid stakes is almost non existent. It certainly is nowhere near high enough to worry about us not betting and if we do get raised usually it is just an easy fold.
The showdown prone nature of these games has allowed me to spot a very common pattern. Usually, if the board is not paired, people will not bet one pair at the end for value. This means that their river betting tendencies tend to be extremely polarized (very strong or very weak). I witnessed this hand go down in a $5-$5 NLHE game last week at the Bicycle Casino. Player A was on the button had raised over two limpers to $30. One of the limpers called and they went to the flop headsup. The board came out K♦ 8♦ 3♣ and the limper check called a bet. The turn was a 2♣ and the limper check called once again. The river was the J♠ and it went check check, Player A revealing A♦ K♣ in his hand. Now, obviously this should almost always be a mandatory value bet. The chances that you have the best hand are very high and you need to get value from a king with a weaker kicker. Not only that but if Player A’s opponent had made kings up on the river there is a high probability that he would lead because of the fact that so many people check back rivers. He needs to get the value for his hand.
Later on in the same day I was observing a different table which Player A had gotten moved to. Almost identical to the hand with A♦ K♣ he was headsup once again, in position, driving the action of a hand. This time the final board read J♠ 5♥ 2♣ 8♦ 2♠. However, now, Player A bet the river, was called and revealed K♣ K♦. You see, people are always scared of their opponent holding two pair when the board is not paired but on paired boards any idiot can see that kings up is basically the nuts in this situation. It is important to pay attention to the betting tendencies, especially on rivers, of your opponents. Some players just will not bet a single paired hand at the end so this actually allows us to bluff catch a little more, if that player is capable of bluffing. I have made some big, big, calls in the past on rivers because I knew that my opponent was a “showdown monkey” and knew that he had to be extremely strong for him to be betting for value.
Betting thinly not only gets you more value from the game but it actually forces your opponents to bluff catch you less. I cannot profitably call down for three streets on a board of T♦ 6♣ 2♣ 3♥ 8♠ with pocket 9♠ if my opponent is capable of thinly betting a hand like QT. This is why it is important to work on depolarizing you river-betting range so that you have some medium strength hands that you bet at the end.
One other thing to note and look out for is how often players check back hands when the board comes out very scary. A ton of guys will absolutely not bet any hand that is not a straight if there is a four liner to a straight. A few days ago in a different $5-$5 game I saw a guy who was holding 88 check back the river on a board of 9♣ 8♠ 3♣ J♥ T♠. It was pretty obvious, again, that if his opponent had had a queen he would have bet out into him on the river. So the only thing the guy really needed to be scared of was his opponent somehow holding a seven. AND the fact that most people in his position would not bet anything less than a straight on the river he actually will get called lighter because his opponent will think that he is either bluffing or “has it”, nothing in between.
So make sure that you watch the regulars and other people that you commonly play a lot of hours with. Most of the time I guarantee you that a vast majority of them are extremely polarized on the river in their betting tendencies on unpaired boards.