Bluffing

Bluffing is obviously an important part of poker. Everyone knows this, but many people get in trouble with bluffs. One of the most common problems is that people think once they start a bluff they can’t stop and end up bluffing all‐in. After you get called on one street most of the time it is wise to give up the bluff. However, if you have a gutshot straight draw and make a bet or a raise you could continue the bluff by planning to bluff certain cards. Like if the board completes a flush draw or straight draw you could represent these big hands. So you can win the hand by making your hand or by bluffing on a scare card. But if a brick hits the turn or river you need to exercise discipline and be willing to give up the hand.

People who do not have the discipline or skill to make the right decision in tough situations tend to get in a lot of trouble when making bluffs. The reason is that bluffing can put someone in an extra marginal position. Say you bluffed and got called, and then on the next street your hand is losing and you have no outs – that is a tough spot and the key is to realise that the bluff was a poor decision and not compound your error by continuing. If it was the original plan to bluff a second street if called, or to bluff on certain scare cards that come that is one thing, but all too often people bluff again simply out of recklessness.

Another tendency people have which hurts a lot is that if they are about to go to showdown and they have nothing they feel they have to bet. Say a draw of some sort missed on the river. Use your judg‐ ment – if you think a bluff will work then bluff. But don’t bet just because you have nothing and you feel you have to. Remember to play straightforward. You were drawing; if your draw hit you’d have a big hand and could bet big, but you have absolutely nothing so don’t bet big, just give up the pot. That is, unless other reliable information tells you to do otherwise.

Also realize that if someone bets into you on a four‐flush board and they are a decent player, they can have more than the nut flush. Think about it mathematically – they have to hold just one card in the deck to have the nut flush so this isn’t very likely. They could have a nut flush, but think of all the other hands a good player could bet – he could bet any medium to high flush or maybe he is bluffing. This could be a good spot to raise because they will have trouble calling with less than the nut flush on these scary boards.

Example 1

$10/$25 HU, me and opponent have $2,500 stacks. I raise to $75 on the button and he reraises to $225, which he has been doing a lot, so I call with my red pocket eights. The flop is 9♣‐7♣‐3♣, he bets $375 and I call. He is raising so much pre‐flop and continuing to bet so many of the flops that he doesn’t need to have a big hand here – I could be ahead or I have the chance to outplay him on later streets. I called instead of raising for a couple of reasons. The first is to play more streets as his action on the turn will give me information about his hand strength and I can either call, bet, raise or fold whereas if I raised on the flop it would be doing so blindly.

However, his turn action will tell a lot more about his true strength – note this is true mainly because he is a worse player than me and if he were better than me than his turn action would give away less information and would confuse me so I’d just fold the flop. The sec‐ ond reason is that there are a lot of hands he has that I’m even with in terms of equity like overcards with a flush draw that might go all‐ in if I raise and force me to fold, whereas on the turn his equity will go down a lot so he will be a lot less likely to semi‐bluff me out of the pot.

The turn comes the 4♣, he checks and I check behind. The river is A♥, the pot is $1,200 and he bets out $750. His bet size gives me informa‐ tion – mainly what it says is he does not have the ace of clubs. If he had the nut flush here he would bet more money, because if I had a high club I would call for more money so he would be missing value. His bet doesn’t look like a bluff because it’s a small size so it looks like he wants a call and isn’t trying to force me out of the pot. It

looks like he has a high club that isn’t the ace. Based on that I moved all‐in. He ran his timer down and called. He had K♣-Q♠. One part of my analysis that is lacking is what high clubs he would be doing this with. It’s doubtful he is an aggressive enough bettor to make this play with the J♣ or lower, and whether he’d bet or check‐call with the queen of clubs is unclear. So his hand range is the K♣ and maybe the Q♣. So even though he doesn’t have the ace of clubs his hand is quite strong and my raise isn’t big. His bet looks like a value bet but it is possible for him to have a bluff. Also part of the problem is that the opponent is an okay hand reader – if I had the ace of clubs there is a very good chance I would simply go all‐in on the flop.

Example 2

$200/$400 HU live against Chau Giang, he is playing weak‐tight. I have $50,000 and he covers me. I have Q‐Jo, he raises to $1,600 and I call. The flop is 10♠‐5♦‐2♦ and I lead into him for $2,800 and he calls. This is a good lead because (unlike if I had an ace high in my hand) Q‐J has no showdown value at all if it gets checked down. With Q‐J I have two overcard outs, plus it’s unlikely Chau hit anything here, plus Chau is a weak player. The turn is the 6♠, I check and he checks, then the river is 10♦ and I check. The pot is $9,000, I check, and he bets $5,000.

His bet size indicates he does not have a flush because he would bet bigger with that to gain more value. He called the flop so he had some sort of made hand and then feels his made hand is good enough to go for value on the river so it sure looks like trip tens. Also note that on the turn his hand wasn’t good enough to bet for value, but on the river something changed so it was good enough. Two hands that improved were pairs of tens to trip tens and flush draws to flushes, and we’ve already ruled out the flush possibility so it looks like trip tens. That gives us a lot of power since we know what hand he has. But can I try to bluff him? His hand is strong; what will he think I have if I check‐raise?

Leading the flop indicated that the board hit me in some way. That could be a flush draw. On the turn my equity with a flush draw and implied odds go down after not hitting and he called my flop indi‐ cating he has a hand he liked. A flush draw would probably then check the turn. Would a flush draw then check‐raise the river too? Yes, it makes perfect sense. If I hit a flush I would consider what second best hands are going to give me money, and the main one is trip tens. Trip tens are pretty good and will almost certainly bet if checked to ,so a check‐raise is definitely better than leading out. So with a flush I definitely could, and probably would, have played it the same (although because I think he’s folding versus the line I took – with an actual flush I would change my line to one where I thought he’d call).

He should still call though. In terms of reading my hand he needs to realize a few things in addition to the hand reading we just did. The question is how often do I lead the flop? If I rarely lead then I probably have something pretty good like a set or a flush draw. If I lead frequently then my hand range widens considerably so I can have a lot of nothing hands mixed in with flush draws. I lead out a reasonable amount so when we get to the river my hand range in‐ cludes my nothing hands along with a flush. And even then he would need to consider if I am both capable and likely to make this play with nothing hands. If not then even though my flop bet doesn’t narrow my hand range to a flush then the river check‐raise itself would. However, I am both capable and likely of doing it here with all my hands.

So I check and he bets half‐pot, which gives away information. It is a bad play to make a small bet which says “I have a hand I like a little but not a lot” then fold when a good player responds to that weak‐ ness. What does it mean when a good player sees a bad player who is weak make a bet like that and then responds with a raise? It shows the good player expects the bad player to fold, so it makes a lot of sense it is a bluff. Chau needed to see the history between us, how he was playing weak and I noticed that and adjusted – then he would have outplayed me and won a big pot.

Example 3

$25/$50 live at Bellagio, opponent has about $17,000 and I cover. He seems to play poker close to correctly, although accidentally – his game is unimaginative and weak. I open UTG for $200 with A♣-Q♥, he calls and three others call behind. The flop is Q♦‐7♥‐3♣, I check, the opponent bets $400 and the three others fold, I call. The turn is the 9♣, I check he bets $1,200 and I call. The river is the 2♣, I lead out $1,200, he fairly quickly and without a worry raised to $3,000, I push all in for $13,000 more.

On the flop my hand is probably best, but the decision is how best to reap value from the hand. I’m not all that afraid of free cards and by continuing to bet in a five‐way pot I represent a strong hand (which is what I have) so the opponents will have a hard time calling me with weaker hands. Because of those reasons, I checked for decep‐ tion and to see what would happen. The player immediately behind me bet $400 into a $1,000 pot – with such a small bet into a multiway pot he must think someone will call or raise him. Because of that, he is not bluffing, and because it is a five‐way pot it’s doubtful he would be so foolish as to make that bet with a hand as weak as J‐J here. Thus his hand is probably a set or top pair. Sets are unlikely by their very nature, plus his bet size, which is small, doesn’t seem like a set because he doesn’t seem that concerned with building a big pot.

On the turn his bet size is further evidence against him having a set because once again, he doesn’t bet bigger trying to build a pot. He bet $1,200 into a $1,800 pot which is a moderate sized bet, but it would be natural to bet a bit bigger – around $1,500 with a big hand like a set. Note one way to build a pot is to bet small to induce a raise, but given my check‐call flop line it’s unlikely I’m going to spring to life here and check‐raise.

On the river I led out $1,200 to squeeze what value I could out of his top pair since it seemed unlikely he would value bet at that point given that the flush draw hit. He raised to $3,000 and here my mind cracked a bit under the pressure of the situation. I saw his bet size which was a small raise and based on that figured he had a medium strength hand like a set or a low flush, since I had the ace of clubs in my hand so he couldn’t have the nuts. Therefore with over 300 BB stacks and a weak opponent I raised all‐in as a bluff. He got a sick look on his face. It didn’t even look like he was thinking through the hand deciding what to do – it was more like he was just depressed that he didn’t have the nuts so couldn’t call in such a massive pot. He showed K♣-Q♣ and mucked it.

Now, let’s address the mistake I made which could have been very costly. The whole hand, I had him read for a top pair, and then changed that opinion on the river. The main reason I changed it on the river was that I saw I could bluff with 250 BB and knew he did not have the nuts. But then I allowed some wishful thinking and put him on the hands he needed to have so I could make the play I wanted to make.

The hand reading that should have taken place is that after the turn he probably has top pair, although there is a smaller chance he could have a set. On the river it doesn’t make sense for him to make that raise with a set because he is a weak player. A flush hit so his set could be behind, and more importantly it makes it harder for me to call his raise with a worse hand. He must have a made hand given the action and if it is that top pair we suspected he is definitely not imaginative enough to turn that into a bluff on the river. Somehow he must have hit a flush and the only way he could have given his flop and turn play is by back‐dooring a flush with top pair – so Q♣-K♣, Q♣-J♣ and Q♣-10♣ as he’d probably fold worse Q‐x of club hands pre‐flop. During the hand based on his low bet size I thought he could have a low flush, but that makes no sense with the other information and there is no way for him to reach the river with a low flush. Even though he is a weak player, it seems quite risky to know that he has something like the second absolute nuts and try and push him off that hand.

But he made a huge mistake, which he would have known had he spent time hand reading on the river to see if he should call me. How can I get to the river with the nut flush? I check‐called the flop, so could I have A♣-7♣ or A♣-K♣? Probably not, as I’d very likely fold them both. A♣-K♣ I might call with the intention of making a play on the turn but on the turn I just check‐called again, also an unlikely line. A hand like A♣‐Q♣ would make more sense but he has all hands like that blocked because he has the Q♣ and K♣. Perhaps even more im‐ portant than my flop play is the river play which really shows that I have no nut flush. If I had the nut flush I would bet the full pot to get as much value from it as I could, or I would go for a check‐raise. The small $1,200 lead and then three‐bet all‐in is very suspicious. Was it really my plan to bet small so he could raise me, and then trap him for a three‐bet all‐in with the nut flush? Maybe it’s a brilliant play by me, but in that case he just has to pay it off.

Example 4

$25/$50 four‐handed, opponent opens UTG to $175 and I call, he is a decent thinking player and I call next to act with 10‐7s. It is good to call behind with a decent range of hands shorthanded to mess around with the opponent so he doesn’t feel free to do whatever he wants. It’s annoying for a player to always have to play pots out of position, plus it disguises the times I do have good hands.

The flop comes A♠‐2♠‐A♥ and he leads out pot. It’s tempting to make a play at this pot given the low probability that he has trips and with the power of our position. However, to do that versus a thinking player we have to think not only about his hand range (which we just did and decided he doesn’t have a strong hand probably), but also think about the hand range he can put us on – our bluff must be credible. The way I played the hand pre‐flop gives information away as if I had an ace with a strong kicker I would re‐ raise. Hands I would call with are pocket pairs, and suited connec‐ tors. Thus he knows my hand range is medium to weak made hands or nothing.

If I raise the flop, given that I do not have a strong ace and he knows it, my play is suspicious. A good way to represent a medium strength hand here is to call, because that is how I would play pocket pairs, so to represent a pocket pair I should play it the same way and call. However, this is a skilled opponent so on the turn he will know that my hand is probably a pocket pair and that I don’t have an ace, and also know that I know he could have an ace. Thus he can continue a bluff into me on the turn. So this is a bad spot to try a bluff here and I have to fold. Compare what happened here to what would have happened versus a weak player. Versus him I could call the flop and then if he has something he will bet turn and if he doesn’t he will check‐fold, or I could just raise the flop. In either case I can simply worry about what he has – not what he thinks I have – and that would have allowed me a decent chance at the pot.

Example 5

25/$50 five‐handed, opponent opens to $175, he has $5,000 and I cover. I reraise pot with A‐Qo and he calls. Opponent is tight and straightforward. The flop is 10♠‐10♥‐6♣, he check‐calls $1,000 and there is $3,100 in the pot now. The turn is the 4♠ and it goes check‐check. The river is the 2♠ and I think there are some hands I can plausibly represent here like A‐A – Q‐Q, a ten, and a flush so I go ahead and bet $2,700 and he calls me and wins with Q‐Q.

The problem here was that my reasoning should have started on a more basic level. The first issue at hand in a bluff is figuring out what the enemy has. This opponent is tight, not weak, and that means that for him to call pre‐flop and on the flop he has to have a hand he likes. In conclusion, his hand range is strong hands and very strong hands and there are better spots to bluff than this. If I had kept my thinking simple and focused on the right things I would have seen this and not bluffed in a hugely –$EV spot.

Example 6

$25/$50 HU, we both have $5,000 stacks. Opponent is loose‐ aggressive, gives too much action and is a fish. I have J‐8o and raise my button to $150 and he calls. The flop is 2♥‐Q♥‐7♠ and we both check. The turn is the 4♠, he bets $300 and he has been leading the turn every time I check behind on the flop for the last few hands so I raised to $1,000. His aggressiveness and loose play had worked suc‐ cessfully against me due to a bad run of cards. It frustrated me and put me on a little tilt and the turn raise was a product of that. This turn raise was forcing the action – here I had no good outs, the op‐ ponent is a loose fish and I should have just folded and been patient.

He called the turn bet, and then the river came the A♠. What changed from the flop to the turn? A four came which made a flush draw, and if I had a pair of fours it gave me a set, so the four didn’t change a whole lot. I didn’t bet the flop, but I raised the turn so it looks like the four could have affected my hand (of course the other possibility is that I was getting tricky with some other hand and the turn didn’t affect my hand). The hand I am most consistently repre‐ senting here is a flush draw. Also the ace came, which is just a plain scary card for him. Even though he is a calling station, this card should be so scary to him. It’s a close decision but worth continuing

my bluff on so I fired out a pot bet, and he thought for a while and folded.

Example 7

$25/$50 three‐handed. Button folds, SB limps and I check in the BB. The flop is A‐2‐4, he checks and I bet $50. This is a good spot for the SB to auto check‐raise because it is unlikely I have a pair of aces and it is tough to call a check‐raise with less than that on this board.

Example 8

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $10,000 and I cover, he plays well but is a little over‐aggressive. He has been reraising me pre‐flop a lot and then almost always continuation betting and so far it has worked against me. I raise to $150 on button with 4‐4 and he reraises a bit more than pot to $500. I call. The flop is J‐8‐7o, he quickly leads out $800 like he normally does. Since he makes that play so often his hand range is fairly wide and weak. This is a good board to make a play on him because it’s the sort of board where supposedly when I raise I can have a big hand like a straight, two pair or set, or on this board I could have a strong combo‐draw like J‐10, plus we have deep stacks and he’s out of position. That combination makes it hard for him to continue there facing a scary board where my hand is supposedly a strong hand or a hand that has good drawing possi‐ bilities. I raised and he folded.

Example 9

$10/$25 HU, opponent is okay and is loose‐aggressive. We have $2,500 each. I have K♥-J♥ and open to $75 and he calls. The flop is 10♣‐7♦‐4♣, he check‐calls my bet of $150. I suspect he’s weak be‐ cause normally he raises when he’s strong. The turn is 3♣. Now on the one hand I have nothing – I have no good outs because even my

overpair outs might not be good, and a couple are tainted (the K♣ and J♣) so that points to not putting more money into the pot. How‐ ever, when I say the opponent has been loose, so far he has played loose on the flop but he hasn’t faced many turn bets yet, so if I bet the turn here it should appear strong to him. Also he is weak based on the fact that normally he raises but here he called, and if he’s weak then a third club on the board and a big turn bet by me should look scary to him. And even if he thinks he’s still good or wants to draw to a mediocre hand he has the problem of being out of position and having to worry about what I will do on the river. So it’s a good spot to bet, then if he calls I have options on the river depending on what card comes. But as expected he folded on the turn here.

Example 10

$10/$25 five‐handed, opponent has $2,850 and I cover. One limper second to act, then I raise to $110 with K♦‐10♥, the BB calls and so does the limper. The flop is A♣‐7♦‐5♥ and they both check to me. I liked betting in this spot because I’m pretty sure the limper has a pocket pair so when I bet it looks like I’m strong but in reality I know I’m really only betting into one opponent. I already know the limper probably has a pocket pair and is probably folding – the BB is the one I’m not sure about. Based on that I continuation bet here the pot of $340, the BB calls and the limper folds.

The turn is the 10♠ and he checks. At this point we know what the opponent has and that gives us all the power. He has a pair of aces. A set or two pair is possible but based on two things he doesn’t have that – sets and two pair are statistically harder and more improbable to come by, and also he called the flop and did not raise. Also we are pretty sure his pair of aces does not have a very high kicker because people normally reraise A‐K pre‐flop. So we know he has a medium strength hand, and he doesn’t know what we have.

We could very well be strong given the betting so far, and also given the dry nature of the board, so if he wants to call us down that eliminates a big group of hands from our hand range that would give him a reason to do so. This is also a good time to put into play the concept of us betting a given amount, and that amount really forcing the op‐ ponent to make a decision for his whole stack of chips. On the turn the pot is about $1,000 but instead of betting full pot I felt it would make it look more believable that we have a good hand and are try‐ ing to milk him so I bet $765. If he calls that then the pot grows to $2,500 and he will be left with $1,800, so he comes close to committing his whole $2,500 stack to the pot when I bet just $765. Also consider that given the nature of his hand – say A‐J – he does not have redraw possibilities and he’s either ahead or behind. For the standard player it’s an easy fold but if he’s either a brave and good hand reader or a stupid lunatic then we could be in trouble. In this case he folded.

Example 11

$10/$25 three‐handed, opponent has $1,500 and raises to $75 from
the SB and I call in the BB with 6‐6. The flop is 2♣‐8♠‐Q♠ and he bets out $150. Here is a time to make a raise based on stack sizes and his hand range. The stack sizes are such that if I raise and he calls he comes quite close to committing himself for his whole stack. So it’s a case of me only betting $500 (in the hand I raised to $500), and him not having a decision for $500 but for his whole stack. Secondly he’s aggressive so I believe if he had any pair of queens he bets there,
and more importantly I think he bets just about all of his pocket pairs. He’s a little wily and he might be suspicious when I raise but ultimately if he has a pocket pair the bottom line is he can’t do much. He’s going to have a hard time calling out of position and he has to assume I have two overcards, a flush draw or a pair of queens. Plus then even if I don’t hit my hand I can bluff scare cards. So his other option is to raise, but I raised to $500 so is he really going to put a
full $900 more into the pot with an under pocket pair? It’s a tough spot for him and he really can’t do much here with a marginal hand but fold.

Example 12

$5/$10 six‐handed. A bad player limps, another person who posted a blind checks, the SB limps and I’m in the BB with 9♦-Q♦ and raise to $55. I do this for a few reasons – my hand is a cool looking one, I’m a better player than my opponents, and it’s an image play that makes me look kind of wacky so I get more value on my good hands in fu‐ ture. Post‐flop I’m under no obligation to continue with a bluff and will only bet if the situation is profitable. Only the EP limper calls. He is a bad player and has $550, which I cover.

The flop is J♣‐5♥‐10♥ and we both check. The reason I checked is be‐ cause he is a little wacky and his combination of wackiness and the stack sizes makes it reasonable for him to raise me all‐in with a wide enough range of hands that it makes me uncomfortable. The turn is a 3♣. Since he checked behind on the flop his hand isn’t that strong, so with a hand that isn’t strong he is going to be calling or folding to a bet from me and not raising. Also the turn was a rag so it didn’t change his hand strength.

If he calls me in this situation it’s really not all that bad as I have a lot of outs and we’re building the pot so if I do hit my hand maybe I can win a really big pot. The river is the A♥ so I have nothing. He’s a bad loose player and I’m reluctant to bluff him but the A♥ is the scariest card in the deck so I have to take advantage of it here and I bet out the pot and he folds.

Example 13

$10/$25 HU, we both have $2,500, the opponent is okay but pretty straightforward. He raises the button to $75 and I call in the BB with A♠-3♠. The flop is 7♥‐Q♣‐8♠, check‐check. The turn is the 2♦, check‐ check. The river is the 4♣, I check and he bets $150, which caught me by surprise. He checked the flop and turn so he doesn’t have a good hand and then he bets the river which is a rag. What that means is he either has a weak made hand he’s trying to value bet or he has a bluff. Given that, I check‐raise bluff to $600 hoping the size of my

bet will scare him more than it’s suspiciousness tempts him to call it. In this case he thinks for a bit and folds.

Example 14

$10/$25 HU, I have 9♥-8♥ and call the button’s raise to $75. The flop is J♠‐3♥‐3♣, check‐check. Turn is the K♦, check‐check. River is the 10♣. Now at this point if I want to bluff it’s going to be a little hard because I checked the turn so he won’t give me credit for a pair of kings, and if I have lower than a pair of kings then what am I doing value betting? Thus if I try to bluff he’s probably going to call me with just about any made hand. However it looks like he doesn’t even have a pair – maybe just an ace high, or some other high card that beats me, so those are the hands we’re going to focus on bluff‐ ing out here. And to bluff those hands out we don’t need to bet the full pot of $150 as that’s wasting money.

What we need to decide here is the least amount of money we can bet to make him fold ace high, which I decided was $65 and subse‐ quently bet. In this way, the times that he happens to have a pair and calls us we save the difference between a normal sized pot bet of $150 and $65. Note that the $85 is only saved the times he does call us which might be 50% of the time, so by changing our bet size here our expected value increases by $42.50, which adds up over time.

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