Bluffs vs. Value Bets

Someone e-mailed me this question recently, and as I began to compose an answer, it occurred to me that it could make for an interesting blog post:

Recently a friend of mine and I were batting around a question about the pros.

Essentially it came down to this:
“Do pros grinding online make more money from value bets, or from bluffs?”

I don’t want to go any further into our analysis, but I was wondering what you think.

In one sense, the answer is easy: value bets make more money than bluffs. Strong hands make more money than weak ones. It’s pretty rare that I win a guy’s whole stack on a bluff, but I do it all the time with value bets.

The real answer, though, is that your value never comes solely from one or the other. Here’s a simple demonstration:

You hold As Ks on a Qs Ts 8h 4d 2s board. There is $100 in the pot, and $100 left in the effective stacks. You shove, and your opponent calls 50% of the time. So, half the time you win $100, and half the time you win $200, for a final EV of $150.

Somehow, you realize that your opponent is only calling 50% of the time. So, you decide to start shoving 9h 7h as a bluff. Half the time you lose $100, and half the time you lose $100. Break-even play, right?

Except that your opponent catches you in the bluff, and starts calling 75% of the time. Now your EV is $175 when you shove As Ks.

But did that extra EV come from the bluff or the value bet? In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. I would argue that no bet has value in a vacuum. Even your whole range in a given spot can’t really have an EV, since it is dependent on what has happened earlier in the hand and what may happen later in the hand (in the example above, there was $100 already in the pot, which may have gotten there semi-bluffing on earlier streets, but it’s being accounted as EV from a bet now).

Value is a function of your entire strategy. Everything you do, everything you have done, everything you could do and might do and will do in the future. This is why we had so much difficulty trying to enumerate all the potential sources of value in a bet.

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8 Responses to “Bluffs vs. Value Bets”

  • Andy says:

    Your question is wrong question.
    The question is too complex to answer.
    It is impossible to answer directly.
    To have better shot at this question you need ask several more simple questions,make more assumptions and simplify your perspective.
    What about question:Do I make more money from value bets, or from bluffs?.
    It is still too complex.I do not have idea.
    It is impossible to calculate.We agree I hope.

    OK this is my suggestion.
    All loses are sum of fold loses and showdown loses.
    It is no problem to calculate.
    Now I will simplify to make my bottom line.
    Fold loses are sum of “good” folds and “bad” folds-I was bluffed.
    Objectively we do not have idea about ratio between good folds versus bad folds.And we will never have.
    Showdown loses are sum “good” showdown loses and “bad” showdown loses.Good vs bad in terms of EV.
    What can I say about my loses drawing on my experience as SNG HU player.
    Playing different styles against different opponents I consciously manipulate ratio between my showdown loses and fold loses.
    I can calculate this ratio objectively.
    Indirectly I can jump to conclusion that indirectly I manipulate ratio of profits from my value bets versus my successful bluffs too.
    I do not care if I make more from value bets or bluffs.My top objective is to win my session.
    Lately I compared my style vs your style.
    My style is hefty bets on flop and turn to define range and standard river.
    Your style is under betting flop and turn and “fireworks” on river.
    I see how your style can affect you make profit vs me.
    My simple answer to your question is: It depends on grinding online pro and his opposition.
    To answer your ultimate question you need to define profile of average grinding online pro and define his average opposition.
    And you got the answer.LOL
    There are more interesting suggestions I hope.
    Hypothetically I have access to PokerStars central database and I am able to calculate true profits from value and bluffs for my opponents.
    Of course I could split this value per street or whatever.
    I will say it will the most useful statistics about my opponent profile,range,etc.

  • Eric says:

    I think another interesting question is are good players “more better” then bad players at value betting or bluffing?

    Just a side note, I know Barry G often talks about “bet sizing” as the thing that separates good and really good player.

    • Lin Sherman says:

      Subjectively, I’d say that the skill gap between good and bad players is the same whether we’re talking about value betting or bluffing.

      No way to support this opinion with hard data, however.

      • foucault says:

        Agreed. In fact I’ve found that as I get more sophisticated in my thinking about poker, the distinction between bluffs and value bets blurs. It’s all about equity, and equity is equity.

        • Lin Sherman says:

          I’d also say that the true source of value is game selection. Bluffing and value betting are just tactics. You can be the 8th best bluffer in the world but if you’re at a table with…well, you know.

  • Chris M says:

    Redline vs Blueline everyone but EFG makes more with their value-bets than their bluffs :)

  • IronedSheik says:

    Not to be to relativistic about it, but I think Andrew is right to the extent you’re trying to identify cause by comparing money “from” bluffing vs money “from” value-betting. You could say my last action was a bluff, I won the pot, therefore I won from bluffing. But the last bluff may or may not have been the action that actually caused the fold; it could have been something earlier. Moreover, the result may not have had anything to do with your action in the causal sense. I chase my flush and brick out; when you bet the river, I’m folding, and it may have nothing to do with whether it’s a bluff or a value bet (I suppose you could attribute some “cause” to bluff to the extent it blocks me from bluffing some % of the time, but there are still times when I have checked out of the end regardless).