When facing a bet, you should always be trying to determine whether your opponent is betting for value or betting as a bluff.
When a player is betting for value (value betting), they are looking to get called. When they are betting as a bluff (bluffing), they are looking for their opponent(s) to fold.
About ten years ago, give or take, in the late 2000’s, there was a popular play dubbed the Value Bet Bluff. It was a play that, when used correctly in the right spot, was made on the river, often from out of position, usually after check-calling every street.
Typically, the value bet bluff was made by a player who had a strong range advantage, and the sizing of the bet was so small in relation to the pot that it laid very enticing pot odds — the logic behind it was simply, “How could anyone bet this small and not want to get called? They have to have it.” It would get a fold very often when used properly. Take a look at the following example.
$1/$3 NL cash game, 9 handed.
The action is folded around to Villain on the button, who raises to $10.
The small blind folds, and Hero looks down at 8♠️7♠️, who calls.
The flop comes 5♠️ 6♣️ 6♠️.
Hero checks, Villain bets $11, Hero calls.
The turn brings the 7♥️.
The board is now 5♠️ 6♥️ 6♠️ 7♥️.
Hero checks, Villain bets $30, Hero calls. The pot is now $103.
The river brings the 8♥️.
The final board is 5♠️ 6♥️ 6♠️ 7♥️ 8♥️.
As you can see, this is a soaking wet board. Everything got there except for the exact hand that the hero is holding. However, Hero has a huge range advantage here and it’s very unlikely that Villain is holding something other than a bluff catcher. For these reasons, Hero decides to lead out now on the river with a bet of only $25.
Villain figures that the absolute worst hand that could lead out here is the dummy end of the straight — hands like A4s, 45s, 43s, 42s, 74s, A4o, 64o, and 44, which could all very easily take a check-call line.
At best, Villain figures that Hero has quads (absolute top of the range) or a full house with hands such as 55, 65, 76, 86, 77, or 88. Again, it’s reasonable that all of these hands would take a check-call line.
Villain finally folds and shows K♦️K♣️.
This spot was pretty common in the mid to late 2000’s. It just seemed like such a sucker bet, screaming “Please call me!”—no one at the table wanted to call a bet that would be made with such an obvious hand. You would feel like a fool when calling a river bet of less than 25% of the pot, only to be shown the obvious. As the above hand demonstrates, the result was often a fold.
That was the case, that is, until players caught on to the fact that they were being exploited by folding far too frequently to a bet that laid them incredible pot odds. Clever players would use the same sizing for both value betting and bluffing, but ultimately these players realized that this small bet sizing was leaving a ton of chips on the table. In other words, they weren’t maximizing their wins.
The trend started to change when overbetting the pot on the river yielded tremendous profit, for players who were ahead of the curve realized that such a large bet looked awfully suspicious to the same players who were folding to the Value Bet Bluff. This time, the logic being, “The board is so wet. Betting so big would be foolish because nothing can call. It has to be a bluff.”
Eventually, as time progressed, players began adopting a more GTO (Game Theory Optimal) based approach to the game, resulting in a very balanced playing strategy that was heavily rooted in math and statistics. It would no longer make sense to use the Value Bet Bluff, or bet so small for value in such spots. You would almost always get called now. Laying such incredible odds was too enticing. Therefore, bluffing was impossible unless you used a considerably larger bet size.
As you can see, this is a very imbalanced playing strategy. If you bet small for value but large when bluffing it will eventually become quite easy for your opponents to take advantage of you. This led to another change in poker playing trends.
The response became the new standard—play your nutted hands the same way you would play your bluffs. With that idea in mind, players would no longer make a bet on the river that was so small in size. Naturally, the Value Bet Bluff became obsolete.
All of this, somewhat recently, led to the inception of the Microbet.
To put it briefly, a Microbet is a play that is used on the river, when out of position, with the intention of inducing your opponent into bluffing you off the hand, usually by shoving all-in, or by making a large raise.
The Microbet should be used only once per session, and very rarely, if ever, used twice on the same player. The Microbet only works on players who are capable of not only bluffing, but also bluffing on the river. You should never use the Microbet against players who never bluff, lack aggression or experience, employ a passive playing style, or tend to give up on the river.
The Microbet is an unbalanced, exploitative play, which is why you should use it sparingly. It usually works, when used correctly in the right spots, because it is often perceived as a Blocker Bet, which is a small bet made on the river with a marginal hand that has showdown value that aims to prevent your opponent from bluffing you off the hand with a large bet or all-in. The Microbet is also sometimes perceived to be a Value Bet Bluff, or even as a bet that is sized in proportion to the strength of your hand.
Ultimately, the reason why the Microbet works is because it looks weak. If it’s used against the right player, it often results in a raise. There’s a level of finesse involved when using the Microbet in live poker—the tricky part is accurately and correctly profiling your opponent.
Here’s a real hand that played out during the 2019 WSOP, where I saw the Microbet successfully executed (at a very high level of play) in a high stakes game at The Wynn. See the hand history below.
A foreign player, from overseas, used the Microbet in a $10/$25 NL Holdem cash game, 9 handed.
The overseas player opens to $80 in EP, gets called by MP, then 3bet to $225 by the button. Both players call and we see a 3-way flop.
The board comes 2♦️ 6♣️ 9♦️.
The overseas player leads out with a donk bet of $200, and gets flatted by both MP and the button.
The turn is an offsuit 3♠️.
The board is now 2♦️ 6♣️ 9♦️ 3♠️.
The action gets checked to the button, who puts in a bet of $375, which gets called by both of the other 2 players.
The river pairs the board with a 3♥️.
The final board is 2♦️ 6♣️ 9♦️ 3♠️ 3♥️.
Now, the overseas player in EP makes a bet of just $375, into a pot of a bit more than $2400. The player in MP folds, and the button tanks for maybe 45 seconds, then raises to $1200.
The overseas player snap calls verbally.
“I call. Show A4 of diamonds!!” — says the overseas player, in a burst of excitement and in a noticeably loud volume.
Sure enough, the button tables A♦️4♦️.
The overseas player then tables A♠️K♣️ and scoops the pot with AK high.
This is an example of the Microbet being used at an incredibly high level. It’s not too often that a player with only Ace high wants to get raised on the river. However, put that fact aside for a moment — the overseas player correctly put his opponent on a bluff, and induced a raise with a Microbet.
A safe approach is to only use the Microbet when you have a very strong hand, unless you’re an experienced player with confidence in your game. If that’s the case, then try using it in spots where you’re certain that you have the best hand but your opponent thinks that they are, in fact, holding the winner.
The next time you find yourself in the right spot, give the Microbet a shot. Remember, use the play sparingly, and never more than once in a session.