Getting a handle on value betting is imperative for anyone who takes their game seriously enough to really want to maximize their winnings.
Value betting is essentially the art of stealth persuasion. You want to convince your opponents to put their money into the pot to maximize your winnings. Achieving this end is going to involve a few things, not the least of which is a strong hand, a good understanding of basic poker strategy and a thorough feel for poker psychology.
Value Betting Strategy
The best way to think about value betting is by taking it out of the immediate context of the hand and considering it in the context of your overall play. Every strategy you employ and every action you take has to lead to the greatest possible return on your investment (ROI) overall.
Let's take a look at an example of what we mean by considering the merit of the check-raise in slow playing:
Slow playing has its place in poker, but when it comes to really trying to optimize value betting, it is not usually your best bet. Sure, slow playing can get money into the pot, but maximizing your value betting means you want to get as much money as possible into the pot. It means that for the most part you’re going to want to work with good hands and raise. Yes, your opponent may very well fold under pressure, but if you can't wring money out of them with a monster hand, you probably weren't going to be able to squeeze much out of them regardless.
Here's another way to look at it: if you raise with a strong hand and your opponent folds, you have at least tried to extract more money from them; this is better than hoping to string them along only to have them connect on the flop, turn or river.
And speaking of which...
Some special attention should be paid to value betting on the river. We know you want your opponent to stick around and sweeten the pot just a little more, but fight the urge to call or make a small bet so as not to frighten off your opponent. Look at it from a mathematically perspective: if the amount we stand to gain in the event an opponent does call our paltry little bet is NOTHING compared to the amount we stand to gain if we go big, then we need to think and act BIG. It's true, they might fold, but this is completely overshadowed by what we can win in the event they don't.
Again, value betting is all about setting your sights on the long term. Don't get bogged down by trying to slow play every hand. It's usually better to use your monster hands to win huge sporadically than to waste these hands amassing a series of mediocre wins with smaller pots. It's about winning larger amounts of money overall, not winning token quantities on individual hands.
Value Betting Psychology: The Human Element
You're going to want your opponents to siphon their chips into the pot every possible round, and while having a handle on your poker strategy will certainly help encourage this positive outcome, it doesn't mean anything if you don't have a good understanding of how your opponents operate and how you're perceived at the tables.
Successful value betting hinges on having a feel for your opponents holdings. You need the strongest hand, but you also need to feel that your opponent has a hand with which they feel confident calling. This 'feel' cannot be taught in a book or a blog; it is something that can only be learned after playing hundreds of hands and logging countless hours at the table observing what makes players tick. To get a feel of what your opponent has, you have to know what kind of player your opponent is.
Likewise, you have to be constantly aware of how you are coming across at the table. If, for example, you start playing actively when you've been playing fairly passively in previous hands, it`s going to raise suspicion; your opponents are going to know you have a good hand and you won't be able to squeeze a single chip out of them.
In general, profitable value betting will require your constant attention - not only to the cards, but to your image, your opponents and to the big picture.