Dead Money versus Live Money

Recently, the idea of using dead money to justify actions has picked up a lot of momentum. It’s common to hear people justifying their actions by relying on the presence of money in the pot. Unfortunately, there is a quick shortcut that’s often taken that commonly leads people astray. This common assumption is that dead money simply means any money in the pot. The mistaken thinking might be, then, that if I bet $100 into a pot of $150 and my opponent raises to $250, that there is $500 of dead money in the pot. This isn’t quite sophisticated enough.

Let’s continue with this example. The first thing we have to consider is our opponent. If our opponent is extremely passive and would never raise without the nuts, there is precisely $0 of dead money in the pot. There is exactly $500 of live money in the pot. Dead money, then, only exists when it’s possible that our opponent might fold at some point during the hand. This is an incredibly common mistake. We can explore this further using some arbitrary numbers. Instead of a passive player, let’s say that the raiser is aggressive and will fold to further action 50% of the time. In that case, only $250 of the pot is actually dead money.

The crux of this point lies in differentiating between players who will fold and those who won’t. Passive players, by definition, create zero aggressive dead money. So, if they raise or play back at you, you can count on the pot being incredibly live. I once watched a friend play $10/$20. The friend raised T♥9♥, and a passive player called in the blinds. The flop was Q♥6♥4♣. The passive player checked, my friend bet, and the passive player check-raised. My friend shoved all in and was summarily stacked by a set of sixes. When we talked about the hand later, collection of dead money was a major reason for his shove. After some thought, it became clear that this type of play is acceptable against a player who actually has a check-raise bluffing range—there probably is a lot of dead money to be won. In a pot that’s 100% live, though, semibluffs (or bluffs of any kind) are suicide.

Let’s consider some situations where we have to decide just how dead the money in the pot really is:

  •   We raise on the button preflop and a bad-passive BB calls. The flop is XXX. The pot remains largely dead, as we can expect the BB to generally c/f the majority of his range.
  •   We raise in the CO preflop and a bad-passive button calls. The flop is Axx. We c-bet the flop and he calls. The pot is now very live, and without a specific read we rarely expect our opponent to fold.
  •   We raise in the CO preflop and a bad-aggressive player on the button calls. The flop is J54. We c-bet the flop and he raises. Despite his probable wide range, the pot here is still pretty live. We might rebluff here and get called down by an oddly played A4 or 66.
  •   We raise in the CO preflop and a loose-aggressive, good player calls in the blinds. The flop is J♥5♥4♣. He checks, we bet, and he calls. The pot is usually pretty dead here, as we’d expect him to raise his strongest hands. We should be able to barrel pretty effectively.*
  •   We raise in the CO preflop and a loose-aggressive, good player calls in the blinds. The flop is J♥5♥4♣. He checks, we bet, and he check-raises. Again, the pot is often pretty dead here, as many hands in his range are bluffs or draws that would generally fold to a reraise. This isn’t a bad spot to reraise as a bluff.
  •   We raise in the CO preflop and a tight-aggressive, good player calls in the blinds. The flop is J♥5♥4♣. He checks, we bet, and he check-raises. Now, the pot is nowhere near as dead as it was before—we can’t count on dead money to make a reraise bluff here. In short, it’s much too thin.

I could provide thousands of examples. These ones probably seem rather obvious. However, I’m including these examples because I see students misapplying reason #3 for betting (capitalization of dead money) all across the board.** Just because there’s money in the pot doesn’t make it dead money. Remember to differentiate between dead money and live money and you’ll cut down on spew and make smarter, more efficient bluffs.

*This is somewhat out-dated. Many regulars will now flat with a stronger range preflop and fold less- often postflop. So, while it may be good to barrel against some opponents on a jack-high board, it’s not as clear as it used to be.
**Probably because it’s just a much more confusing way to say “bluffing”!

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