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StrategyWeekly No Limit

Hand potential and profit maximization


In this article
  • How to evaluate a hand's potential
  • Why you shuold weigh different lines against each other
  • How to find the most profitable line

It is well-known that the aim of almost all poker players is to make profit. However, we can make profit by different means. Here is the specification:

  • Value betting and value raising
  • Bluff and semi-bluff
  • Showdown value realization

To begin with let’s introduce the term “hand potential”. Hand potential will stand for an expected value that we can get out of a certain hand given a certain line.

Hand potential

Let us say that hands we can make value bets or value raises with, have value potential. Hands that we can bluff or semi-bluff with have bluff potential. Hands that are profitable at showdown have showdown value potential.

It is obvious that hand potential may be positive, unfavourable or equal to zero. When we are in a hand it is crucial to distinguish the most positive hand potential and apply exactly that one.

Now here is an example in some variants.

$5/$10 No-Limit Hold'em (6 handed)

Stacks & Stats
MP2 = ($1306.00)
MP3 ($1000.00)
CO = ($1205.50)
BU (Hero) = ($1030.00)
SB = ($1020.00)
BB = ($1015.00) VPIP 22\PFR 18\AF 2.7\WTS 27\3bet 9%

Preflop: Hero is BU with XX.
3 folds, Hero raises to $30.00, 1 folds, BB raises to $110.00, Hero calls $80.00.

Flop: ($225) 2cThQh (2 players)
BB bets $150.00, Hero calls $150.00.

Turn: ($525) 9d (2 players)
BB checks, Hero checks.

River: ($525) 8d (2 players)
BB checks, Hero?

Variant 1: ХХ = KhJh

It is clear for the nuts hand in this spot that the max positive will be value potential as worse hands may simply call us. Expected value out of checking behind will also be positive, however much lower. And there is no sense in bluffing with nuts as there are simply no better hands that could fold. Therefore, bluff potential is zero.


In general, the nuts hand always has a good feature: the value and showdown value potentials are positive in any way. And our task is just to recognise the max one. It may seem that value potential of the nuts hand is always higher than the showdown value potential. It is correct almost in any situation. However, sometimes this isn’t true: we can use our showdown value potential of the nuts hand when we want to induce bluff or thin value betting from our opponent. And there will be times when such a play may be even more profitable rather than a simple value bet.

Variabt 2: ХХ = 7h5h

This hand has absolutely no value and showdown value potential. That’s why if bluffing is slightly profitable, then bluff potential is the max.


It is important to understand that if we are not able to value bet or go for a showdown, we do not necessarily have to bluff. In order to realise the bluff potential of a hand, the expected value of bluff must be strictly positive.

Variant 3: ХХ = QcQs

It is unlikely that we will get called by worse hands on the river. Our thin value bet may get called only by straights and it will really harm our EV from the bet. Bluffing with such a hand makes no sense as well, because better hands will never fold. Therefore, let’s consider the bluff potential is equal to zero. But keep in mind that our hand has a high showdown value potential.

It is likely that the value potential of this hand will be positive anyway given the “dead money” in the pot. However, it surely won’t be higher than the showdown value potential.


Situations shown in examples 1-3 are quite simple as the difference between potentials is almost obvious and notable. And most poker players can easily find the max positive potential. And yet sometimes we come across the situations when it is rather difficult to understand the difference between potentials, and therefore to identify the max positive one.

Variant 4: ХХ = KdQs

It is clear that our hand has no value potential. We have some showdown value against AK, AT, small pocket pairs and connectors. Quite a number of players will check behind here because they realise the showdown value of this hand. However, players do not always notice the bluff potential of this hand. For sure, there are better made hands in our opponent’s range that he may fold to our aggression: AQ, AA, KK, 88, 98.


So our hand has equal showdown value and bluff potentials. In this case it’s difficult to identify the max potential. Situations similar to this one are a great chance for a good player to realise his edge. Such players usually have a deeper understanding of their EV moves and it is easier for them to find the max one and exploit it.


I didn’t want to put a strict potential calculation in this article. All of you can do the mathematics of your EV yourself. The main point of this article is to show that you need to evaluate all possible ways of making profit and to choose the most profitable one.