Many players find themselves aware that their opponent is extremely likely to have a weak made hand. Unfortunately, these players themselves also have a weak made hand, but it’s worse than their opponent’s. However, they refuse to play aggressively in spots like these because they hold on to a desperate hope that their weak made hand will be good at showdown. We need to rid ourselves of the attitude that having a pair is good enough to check it down—hand strengths are relative, and your pair might as well be comprised of Uno cards if your opponent’s pair is better.
Allow me to give you an example. A decent-but-not-great regular player raised UTG. I called in the CO with 5♣6♣. The flop came down Q32r. He bet, and naturally I called with my gutshot, intending take the pot away on the turn. The turn card came a 6. He checked, and in the interest of collecting dead money I bet (sticking with the plan). He called. At this point, there is a 0% chance that my sixes are good. The river card was a 7. He checked. Many players would look at their pair of sixes and check it back, hoping that somehow they’ll win at showdown. However, remembering that A) hand strength is relative, and B) my hand is extremely unlikely to win, the only reason that I would ever check is if I thought that a bluff was unprofitable—NOT because I had a pair of sixes. In this case, I thought I could very effectively represent a set or straight, so I decided to bet; I even overbet the pot. Villain timed down and folded what was probably a hand like QT.
This concept relates to another really tough hand that we’ve already discussed briefly. I had called a raise with KQ out of the blinds and checkraised a K98 two-tone board. My opponent called. The turn was a T. I checked (planning on folding), and he checked behind. At this point I put him on a relatively weak made hand like JT. The river was a blank, so I decided to bet half pot for thin-value. My hand was pretty obvious to him at this point—a generally weak thin-value hand. However, he knew that his weak made hand was rarely good at showdown and thus calling was not an option. So, his only options were to fold or raise if he thought the bluff would be profitable (i.e. if he could make me fold KQ). He thought it would be, and shoved all in. Unfortunately for him I’m not as good at folding as I am at calling.
The point is simple though:
Turning a made hand into a bluff is a good idea when your opponent is likely to have a weak hand, but one that’s still better than yours.
Playing passively and trying to get to showdown is an unsuccessful strategy. If a bluff is profitable, do it. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by your pair, thinking that it might somehow be good. You know it isn’t. Act accordingly.
A student of mine recently played a hand that serves as a good example of what not to do. A regular raised UTG, and my student called with A5s. The flop was 973, giving us the nut flush draw. Surprisingly, the UTG raiser checked the flop, and we decided to bet for thin value and collection of dead money with our big draw. The opponent check-called. The turn was an offsuit K, the UTG raiser checked, and my student decided to check. The river was a 5, giving him a pair of fives, and the UTG raiser led out for pot. He decided to call. This is the only thing he cannot do. Given the action, there is a 0% chance that his pair of fives is good there. The only question is whether or not a bluff would work successfully. If the answer is yes, then we do that. If not, we fold. Calling is simply not an option. I can’t stress this enough.