Thin value betting is a strategy we can used to help us make difficult decisions on fifth street and maximize our potential winnings overall. More specifically, thin value betting refers to value betting weak hands on the river. This lack of certain merit is what makes the value of the hand 'thin' - hence the term.
Thin value betting is riskier than straight up value betting, namely because you’re not holding the nuts. However, if you do it carefully and strategically, you can maximize your winnings in the long run. (If the concept of value betting itself is foreign to you, take a step back and read my article on value betting first.)
You're going to get called by a better hand than yours more often than you may like, but the amount of times you'll get paid off by worse hands will make up for this fact - that's where the value part comes from.
What Value Betting Looks Like
Sometimes we know we've got a great hand, so when you're value betting, you are going to bet and raise often to squeeze as much value out of your holdings as possible. Pretty basic stuff.
Example of a nut hand:
You: Q♥ Q♠
Board: 4♥ Q♣ 7♠ A♠ 3♣
So, if you land a hand like this, you’re going to want to bet and raise the hell out of it to extract as much coin as possible out of every opponent on every round of betting.
On the other hand, let's look at this hand:
You: 4♣ 4♦
Board: 3♦ Q♣ 7♠ A♠ 3♥
If you find yourself holding this doozy, then you’re either going to be checking like crazy or you're going to fold. After all, you won't be expecting anyone to call with a lousier hand, so in this instance, there is zero value in betting.
Why Thin Value Bet?
Thin value betting comes in handy when you find yourself with a hand that puts you in between the absolute nuts and absolute crap. Thin value betting allows us to extract some value from hands we may otherwise have mucked, not realizing their potential. In other words, thin value betting allows us to capitalize on every single hand and really maximize our winnings throughout our poker life. Here’s the crux: it is pretty tough to tell whether or not there is actually value in betting these middle-of-the-road hands.
When to Thin Value Bet
As with value betting, you don't judge the merit of thin value betting on whether or not your well-intended play pans out in that particular instance; rather, you judge it based on whether or not it will work MOST of the time in the overall scheme of things. As always, you want to think about maximizing your return on investment (ROI). If your hand is the best hand more than half the time, you will make a profit in the long run, so you should play that hand now. Conversely, if you're holding the best hand less than half the time, you're probably risking too much won't end up with a positive ROI.
So, the less the chance of our having the best hand when we're called, the thinner our hand's value.
Let's take a look at an example of thin value betting to get a better idea of where, when and how it works:
You have a Q♣ J♦. A pretty solid player raises and everyone else folds. You call. The blinds fold.
The flop comes with J♥ 8♣ 5♥.
At this point your opponent bets. You're holding a top pair, so you are not going to want to fold. However, you don't want to raise either because if your opponent has an inferior hand, he is going to fold and if he has a superior hand, he will call or raise. The best thing you can do to maximize your value is call your opponent’s bet, which is what you do.
The turn comes with an A♦.
Your opponent opts to check, probably because this ace is a bit of a scare card for both of you. At this point, neither of you wants to be building a huge pot, so you check as well.
The river arrives with a 5♠.
Again, your opponent checks. Since the 5 hasn't changed the trajectory of the board that much, what we have to decide if there is any point (i.e. any value) in betting now.
How to decide when thin value betting is your best move...
To ascertain whether there is value in a thin value betting situation, you are going to want to do two things: first, give your opponent a range and then, based on that range, figure out what hands you will beat and which hands you won't be able to take down.
To assign your opponent a range, you have to figure out how they work; what makes them tick - or act, as the case may be. You have to have been paying enough attention throughout the game to be able to know what hands they play and how they play these hands.
Think back to the example. We've already established that your opponent is a pretty solid player, and seeing as he bet on the flop, you can fairly confidently assign them a hand that would have made a pair on the flop. (Think 8, J. They could also be holding a good pocket pair or overcards. Also, think flush draws.)
Now, when the turn came and your opponent checked, it lets you know that he is unlikely to have paired his overcards or have made a set. If he had, he would have bet, right? Chances are he has a pair of 8's or J's or was holding pocket pairs. The ace made him back off a bit. Since he checks again on the river, you can be fairly confident about acting based the range you've already assigned him.
Next you've got to figure out what hands will beat yours and vice versa. This is how you will decide whether thin value betting is worth it or not.
Hands that will beat yours include AJ, KK, KJ and QQ. Hands that you can beat include TT, 99, 77, JT, T9.
Given that information, we can see there are way more hands we beat than hands we don't beat, so you should bet. Again, you may not win this time if you're called, but in the long run, you will make money thin value betting in this situation.
How much do you thin value bet?
As with most betting in poker, there are no concrete rules about exactly how much to bet and when. You need to be adaptable and you have to educate yourself enough to know when to adapt. This said, when it comes to thin value betting, you will want to give opponents with hands that are inferior to yours the chance to call (thereby funneling more money into the pot and ultimately, your pocket). Usually, 3/4 the size of the pot will guarantee you solid value for your hand without scaring away your opponent, making your thin value betting a success. This said, in some situations (like with very timid opponents) you can bet on the way smaller side just to ensure a call from the weakest of holdings (sometimes 1/3 of the pot, sometimes even betting the minimum).