Play On The End, Part One: Value Bets, Bluffs, and “Dark Tunnel” Bets

Poker Concepts, Strategy

September 3, 2007

In poker play on the last betting round, or street, takes on a decidedly different nature from play on any other round. Because there are no cards to come, the relative rankings of the players’ hands are fixed, and as such all betting revolves around uncertainty about opponent hole cards, not uncertainty about the cards to come. This simplified environment causes many issues that are murky and complicated on earlier betting rounds to become more clear, and as such play on the end is the perfect framework for introducing a number of important poker topics. Furthermore, since there are no more cards to come, most versions of poker (excluding split pot games) with the same betting structure play very similarly on the last street.

One of the issues that is greatly clarified when playing on the end is the purpose of betting. Specifically, there are two good reasons to bet on the end, and these two reasons create the two classes of bet/raises:

Value Bet: A value bet is a bet or raise made when you believe you have the best hand, and you believe the bet will be called by a worse hand.

Bluff: A bluff is a bet or raise made when you believe you do not have the best hand, but you believe better hands will fold to the bet.

The key concept here is that, at least for limit poker, there are no other reasons to bet on the end. This same concept more or less applies big bet poker as well, but there are some caveats that I’ll cover in another article.

This concept can be extended and clarified if you adopt a simplified model of your opponent’s behavior where their range of hands that they will fold, and a range of hands stronger than that with which they will call or raise. When your hand sits on the line between those two behaviors, there can be no benefit from betting because the bet will function neither as a value bet nor as a bluff. This is a situation that Dan Harrington described as a “dark tunnel bet” in Harrington on Holdem, because it resembles the classic horror movie scene where the heroes go exploring some dark tunnel for no rational reason.

When you believe you are in such a situation, you must pass.  It’s worth noting that good things may well come from passing if you are first to act, as your opponent may well bluff with a hand worse than yours, and you should have a fairly easy call if the pot is not absolutely tiny.  Note that you would have lost this opportunity had you erroneously bet.

Another worthwhile observation is that usually, when considering what hands you should bet on the end, there are both weak and strong hands you should bet, but the middle-strength hands you should pass.  This is counterintuitive but an important concept.


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