Value Betting vs. Protection Betting Tips

Value Betting and Protection Betting in No Limit Texas Holdem

Learning to bet for value and how to protect your hand while playing No-Limit Texas No Limit Texas HoldemHoldem

Article credits: Ben Nash, aka 6foot3
There is a balance to betting that must be reached in order to receive maximum value for your hands. This balance is the struggle between Value and Protection Betting.
On the Value side, you want to extract the maximum amount of money from your opponent. And on the Protection side, you want to prevent losing the amount of money you have invested in a pot.

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I have seen on many occasions inexperienced players over and under bet their hands accordingly. Following are two examples I personally played that illustrate improperly applied Value and Protection Betting.

The first hand example is from the 2005 WSOP.

I was in middle position and looked down at JJ. I raised three times the big blind and was called only by the big blind yielding a pot of 6.5 big bets. The call of the big blind could have simply been defensive, but an otherwise chatty opponent was suddenly quiet. I assumed a range of hands he could hold to be big paint, big slick or a middle pair.
The flop delivered K93 rainbow. My opponent bet the minimum bringing the pot to 7.5 big bets. At this point I was convinced he had a king and his Value bet would force me to call.

The turn card was another K. My opponent quickly checked raising the ire of suspicion. So I promptly checked behind him as I was willing to show this hand down for nothing.

The river delivered an 8. My opponent declared assertively that he was “all-in”. Now, I originally placed my opponent on a king. With two kings on the board, the likelihood of him holding a K was small. However, I was not willing to risk my entire tournament on a pair of Js when my gut instinct told me he had a K. I decided to try getting him to expose his cards by declaring that I was folding the winner and showing him my Jacks as they were mucked. He triumphantly flipped his hand over showing pocket kings for quad-kings.

How does this apply to value betting?

Proper use of value betting in light of what your opponent may be holding would have given this opponent more chips with his monster hand. Obviously I was willing to call the one bet on the flop. At minimum I would have called one bet on the turn and one on the river. He left at least two bets on the table by improper betting.

Where does the balance come into play?

I believe my opponent had an opportunity to make more than the two bets he left on the table. The flop minimum bet was crazy. No cards should be folded when the pot is offering 7.5 to 1 odds. With my opponent flopping a set of Ks and an uncoordinated board, a flop bet of two or three bets would have been about the maximum an opponent could call with an underpair.

The turn check is not a bad play in trying to induce a bluff. But in order for this attempt at weakness to work, he would have had to represent strength on the flop. His flop bet did not do this. Now in the scenario where I called a flop bet of two or three big bets, at minimum I should be willing to risk two or three more bets as the pot would again be offering remarkable odds to stick around. Finally, the all-in bet on the river gave no consideration to my hand or chip stacks. What hand would possibly call the all-in? A full-house or set of kings only. This was a missed opportunity to extract more chips from an opponent. His hand was so strong that a small bet is the best he could have hoped to recover. In the alternate flop/turn scenario presented, a river bet of three to five bets would have likely been paid off.

The second hand reflects on Protection Betting.

This hand was played in Las Vegas in a cash game.
Four limpers to seat 7 who makes a minimum raise.

I was in seat 9 with 68 spades and cold called the two bets. The small blind, big blind and previous limpers all called as well yielding a pot of 16 big bets.

The flop delivered 3c5h7c.

All checked to seat 7 who minimum bet again and all players involved called bringing the pot to 24 big bets. The turn card was the Q of diamonds.

Again, all checked to seat 7 who bet two big bets. I called, along with the big blind bringing the pot to 30 big bets.

The river was the 9 of diamonds. Big blind checked and seat 7 went all-in. I called and the big blind folded. Seat 7 turned over red Aces and lost a huge pot to my rivered straight.

How does this apply to Protection Betting?

With hands that are vulnerable (such as one pair in the above example), it is absolutely important to protect the money that is invested in the pot BEFORE it is too late to do so.

Where is the balance?

This guy had aces, and this is obviously a monster hand pre-flop, but the hand progressively gets worse on the flop, turn and river unless helped by the board. Aces are only one pair.

The minimum raise pre-flop was a huge mistake given all of the limpers. Aces in an 8-way pot are destined to be cracked. There was no Protection Bet pre-flop providing security for the aces. Mistake.

Instead of the minimum raise, a pre-flop raise of about 4 to 6 big bets would have thinned the field significantly putting the aces in far better position from the flop on. Now assuming the filed was thinned and it was three-way action after 4 to 6 bet pre-flop raise, a respectable continuation bet on the flop is required. You cannot lay proper odds for the flush or straight draws to continue with the hand without making a negative EV play. *a negative EV play is one that will lose money over the long haul.
In order to protect against the flush, your bet would need to lay insufficient odds for the opponent to continue. This means it has to be big enough to force them to fold or make an improper call based on the odds. Some opponents will call regardless of the bet, but you must make an attempt at betting that forces people out of the hand. A solid ¾ to pot size bet would lay odds such that an opponent is making a mistake in calling.

The point is that seat 7 in the above scenario failed to bet in a manner that would push anyone out of the hand until it was too late. With a coordinated board such as the one in this example, aces are useless and serious consideration should be given to sending them to the muck.

You may be able to think of many examples yourself where you made too large of a bet on the river with the nuts that didn’t get a call; or you may remember not betting enough with a hand that was vulnerable.

There is a definite balance between Value Betting and Protection Betting that is often overlooked. Often times players will find that they have all throttle but no gears to shift.

The art in Value Betting keeps customers paying off your premium hands by turning down the throttle to a point palatable to your opponents. Often times players find themselves complaining about the suck-out artists who cracked their (fill in the big pair here).

The art in Protection Betting keeps these thieves from stealing the smaller pots from under you. For all players, the threshold required for both Value and Protection changes. While subtle in difference, strong focus on this balance can yield huge dividends to your bankroll.
~6foot3

P.S. KAP thanks Ben Nash for the article! Comment on this article and others in the strategy section of the Kick Ass Poker forum. Ben represents at the 2005 WSOP