When you should skip targeting

Lee Jones
Published by:
Posted on 01/10/2022

In a recent article, I discussed the importance of “targeting” your bets. In brief, targeting is the process of defining a range of worse hands that will call your value bet. That helps you decide if you should value bet at all, and if so, how much.

The example I gave was when you have AK on an A-7-4-9-9 rainbow board. You can reasonably expect a call from any other ace (all of which you beat), including strong aces (AQ, AJ). So you have a clear, chunky value bet.

Now, having spilled all that ink describing the importance of targeting, I’m going to tell you when you should forget targeting altogether.

Yeah, I know. Stick with me.

The exception

We need to back up a little bit and talk about the difference between you and the people you play against. You’re different from those people.

How do I know? Because you’re reading an article about poker strategy. Specifically, this article. Most poker players don’t read articles about poker strategy – they just go out and play poker. There’s not a thing wrong with that. Me, I like to go fly-fishing for trout. If I were to read articles and watch how-to videos about fly-fishing for trout, I’d probably be better at it. But I’m perfectly happy in my semi-ignorant state, I catch the occasional fish, and I always have a great time.

So who am I to impugn poker players who don’t read poker strategy articles?

However, one of the first lessons that comes from reading poker strategy articles and watching training videos is: “You need to fold a lot.” Even people who do read articles and watch videos have difficulty folding enough. Imagine how difficult it must be if you never watched a training video that told you to fold.

Which means that even if you don’t fold enough (and you probably don’t), your opponents fold even less.

Which brings us back to our targeting discussion. In the previous article, I described an unusual poker game in which you and I got to discuss your betting decisions before you made them. And one of the questions I asked you was, “Well, what worse hands are going to call if you bet?”

Here’s the problem: the best answer you’re going to give me are the hands that you would call with in a similar situation. So in our AK example (the board is A-7-4-9-9 rainbow), you said, “All the worse aces.” That was a great answer.

But let’s change the problem slightly. Let’s say that the villain in this hand, rather than being in the big blind, limped in middle position, and you raised with A T in the hijack seat. It folded back around to them and they called.

The flop is A♠9♣4♠ . They check, you bet, they call. The turn is the 2. They check, you bet, they call. Now the river is the 7, and they check a third time.

You turn to me, “Well, I want to bet, but what worse hand is going to call?”

Here is my response: “Make that their problem.” That is, you and I would probably fold hands such as A8, A6, T9, and 98 to three streets of continued aggression. But the good news is that we’re not there – the villain is. And the average villain, in the average $1/3 or $2/5 NLHE game, may well call a bet with those hands.

You reply: “I worry that a lot of their hands are busted spade draws, which will obviously call nothing. And they could be in there with AQ or AJ, and I’m just value-owning myself.”

As an aside, “value-owning” is an expression meaning to make a value bet, usually in-position, where you could have checked back and shown down your hand, but you bet, and are called by a better hand.

Sure, you might value-own yourself against AJ. I’d like to think that the villain would have raised AQ preflop, but sure, if you play enough hold’em, eventually you’ll value-own yourself against somebody who limped with AQ.

But the villain checked! And people don’t like to fold pairs. Especially top pairs. So let’s let the villain worry about what their calling range is. You are, of course, correct, that they will fold all their busted flush draws, but we don’t care. We get some value by betting, even when they fold, because now they don’t get to see our hand, and that bugs them. “What if that gal who reads articles bluffed me?!?!?!”

Usually, target

You should be in the habit of targeting your bets and raises, even if you’re bluffing. You should have a sense of the hands that you expect to call your value bets, and the hands that you expect your bluffs to fold out.

But never forget that the great majority of players don’t play like you do, and specifically, they call too much. So if you’re a little unsure of what worse hand the villain can call with, ask them. Put out a bet and let them worry about what their calling range is.

Two final thoughts:

  1. Yes, you will occasionally value-own yourself. Don’t feel bad about this – if you don’t value-own yourself with your river bets once in a while, you’re not value-betting the river enough.
  2. If people have difficulty folding, it should make you think twice about bluffing. If you’re bluffing, you must have target hands in mind that you expect to fold. And by the way, don’t try to make them fold top pair – it doesn’t work near often enough to be worth it.

So there you have it. It’s crucial to think about targeting when you’re making a bet. Except when it isn’t.