First level poker players are only thinking about their own hand. If they hold four to a flush they are thinking about the chances of making their draw not evaluating what their opponents might be holding.
The key to successfully value betting and bluffing is to play off the range of your opponents’ hand not your own. You should get into a habit of constantly thinking to yourself “what does he have” during a hand. In reality your actual hand is less relevant than your opponents’ especially when most people miss boards in Hold’em.
Here is a hand that I played at $5-10 NL at the Bicycle Casino. A few people limped in in front of me and I raised from MP2 to $50 with T♣ T♦. Everyone folded and it got back to the initial limpers who called. The flop came out 8♦ 6♦ 8♣. Surprisingly, one of the limpers, an older, tighter player, led out at the pot for $150 and the guy to my right, who was awful, called. Everyone was $2500 deep. Instead of considering my own hand my mind started evaluating the other players’ ranges. I was almost positive that the older gentleman did not have an 8 and would not lead with a flopped monster like 66. I was a concerned however, that he could have a hand like JJ or QQ that he had just limp called with. The guy in the middle was definitely more of a wild card. He could have had a 6, straight draw, flush draw or be slowplaying an 8. For these reasons I decided to just call with position to see what developed on the turn. Fourth street brought a beautiful T♠ and the old man fired $500. The guy in the middle was about to fold but painstakingly looked at the pot and called once again. Now, the pot was $1600 and my opponents both had about $1800 left in their stack. Usually in this spot I would make a small raise but the pot had been bloated up so much and the player in the middle was so bad I did not want either player to fold. At this point I was sure the guy in the middle had a flush or straight draw, not an 8. I was also fairly certain now that the older man had a hand he was trying to protect (although not an 8) and it would put him in an impossible spot if I raised. The river came out the 2♠ and with $2100 in the pot and $1800 left in his stack the upfront player checked. The middle guy also checked, and the action was on me.
A lot of people in this spot make the mistake of bombing the river as an all-in because they basically have a nut hand. In fact our hand here is irrelevant. We know that we have the best holding but we have to extract the maximum amount of value from everyone else’s hand. I thought that the old man squarely had JJ or QQ and wanted to try to get paid. The guy in the middle had become irrelevant because it was obvious to me that he had missed his draw. I decided to bet $675. The old man went into the tank for about a minute and finally called. The MP player quickly folded and I scooped a nice pot.
In the above example there is a huge difference in what comes at the river. Let us say, for example a diamond comes completing the front door flush. If it was checked to me here I would most likely move all in or make a big bet as I would think that I would not get a call from the old man with JJ or QQ anyway but would want to maximize from the guy in the middle if he had caught his flush. Wouldn’t he bet though, you ask? Not always as when the pot gets bigger and bigger people want to go to showdown more and more cheaply when they do not have the actual nuts. Let’s say the river was a Q, K or A. These cards are more difficult to evaluate as I expect the player in the middle to call a big bet if his flush draw ran into top pair but it is tough to extract value from the older man with JJ.
The thing to notice from the above example is that I am constantly thinking about my opponents’ range not my own. The more that you can do this the better player that you will become.