At the outset of the Basic Section, we discussed the evaluation of fold equity. This included player types, number of players, board texture, stack-to-pot ratio, and image. However, most of the advice described in that chapter addressed weaker, small-stakes opponents. Against weaker players, an Ace on the turn is the ideal bluff card. Mid-stakes and high-stakes players know, though, that an Ace on the turn rarely increases fold-equity against regulars. In fact, a turned Ace is often the single worst bluff card in the deck against a thinking player who is expecting us to bluff. Clearly, the fold-equity rules are very different when dealing with competent opponents.
Evaluating fold equity against quality opposition relies upon the same factors as playing against weaker players, though they often work in reverse. I’ll go through each factor to explain (though I’ll skip player types, as we’re specifically talking about bluffing against good players):
1) Number of Players
→ While the presence of multiple players lowers our fold equity, betting into multiple players actually increases our ability to get thinking players to make big folds. So, in many situations, it may be a good idea to bet the flop into multiple players in order to bluff a good player off a strong hand. A thinking opponent knows how to read table dynamics; we can use that to our advantage.
2) Board Texture
→ Thinking players are used to folding in places where nobody bluffs and calling in places where bluffs are common. So, “scare” cards don’t increase our fold equity, while “blanks” actually do. In this sense, fold equity is affected by board texture in exact opposite ways depending on whether your opponent is a good or bad player. Bad players fold on scare cards and call on blanks, while good players tend to do the opposite. Here’s an example: I was playing in a tournament and I called on the button with AQo against an early position raise from a good-aggressive player. The flop was AT4 rainbow. He bet, and I called. The turn was a J and he bet again. At this point, I was already thinking about folding. Nobody bluffs on AJT4 boards! But, given his aggressiveness and my redraw, I decided to call one more street. “Surely he wouldn’t bluff the river,” I thought. Well, the river was a K and I made my straight. He went all-in and I called, and he showed me a stone bluff. “Would you have folded two pair?” He asked. In all honesty, I would have seriously considered it. The point of this story, though, is that some of the greatest times to bluff against regulars occur in spots where you’ve probably learned never to bluff.
3) Stack-to-Pot Ratio
→ Just as you can use the board texture to bluff in spots that nobody would expect, you can use Stack-to-Pot ratios to convince your opponent that you must be value-betting. This might mean betting half-pot when your opponent is bluff-catching and expecting a nuts-or-air situation. A small bet might confuse him into reading your hand as a thin-value bet and cause him to fold. Another good example was developed extensively by high stakes player Ben Straate—the suicide bluff. Straate often would wait until his opponent had put in a large river bet before he moved all-in over the top. Usually, he’d be raising a relatively small amount on top—so small that his opponent would be getting terrific pot- odds to call. However, due to the pot-odds, his opponent would be certain Straate was value-betting and would make big folds. In this sense, using stack-to-pot ratios can create insanely profitable bluffs: you risk a small amount to win a huge pot.
4) Image and History
→ While you can basically ignore image when dealing with weaker players (they just don’t care), understanding your history with a good-aggressive opponent can be the key to knowing whether or not to bluff him. We’ll discuss this in more detail later, but for the moment I’d simply recommend to take notes—if somebody makes a big call or a big fold against you, that needs to craft your decision-making in future situations against him.
Most regulars follow the same process in evaluating fold equity whether they’re playing against weak players or good ones. Scare cards are good to bluff, blanks are bad. If the pot is large, bluffing is bad, and if the pot is small, bluffing is good. These rules are not sophisticated enough to play against good regulars. Beating regulars is about convincing them you’re doing the opposite of what you’re actually doing. This means bluffing in spots where nobody bluffs. Follow the guidelines above and you’ll make smarter, more difficult, more effective bluffs.