Killing Reason #3

Without a doubt, understanding relative hand strength is the first challenge of an aspiring poker player. Knowing how to think about value-betting is critical. Knowing not to bluff when your opponent won’t fold any better hands is also important. However, Reason #3 always seemed difficult to put into words for me. I’ve always felt uncomfortable trying to explain Reason #3, and eventually I boiled it down into a simple example. Here is the situation:

 I raise AQ, villain reraises, I 4bet all-in, and while he’s thinking he accidentally shows me that he’s holding 88. I want him to fold—this is a clear example of Reason #2. I want him to fold a hand with better pot equity than me.

Now, let’s look at the counterpoint:

 I raise 88, villain reraises, I 4bet all-in, and while he’s thinking he accidentally shows me that he’s holding AQ. What do I want now?

I still want him to fold. Hm.

So, sometimes I want my opponent to fold the worst hand. This caused me to redefine reason #2 for betting:

Reason #2: Bluffing means betting to make your opponent fold a hand incorrectly.

Incorrectly means that if he could see your cards, he wouldn’t fold. Sometimes folding incorrectly adheres to the classic version of Reason #2 (we have J9 and he has QJ and he folds preflop to our 3bet), but other times it simply means he folded a hand he had odds to call with (our opponent folds 6♠7♠ on J♠T♠2♣3♦ to our 2nd barrel with AK). Lastly, it could mean our opponent folds a hand that they could have re-bluffed us with (we 3bet J9o and he folds 76s, but if he had 4-bet we would have folded).

This is clearly a much broader vision of the concept of bluffing. Not only does this help us avoid making bets to “capitalize on dead money” which end up being incorrect as either a value-bet or a bluff, but it gives us much greater license to consider bluffing in spots that we might previously have avoided.

Once upon a time, raising a J83 flop with 66 might have seemed bad (no worse calls, no better folds), but when we consider the various pieces of equity he’ll fold (not to mention the things he might fold on later streets—more on this in the chapter “Street Projection”) we might be able to start justifying aggression.

The words we use are important. When something takes too long to explain, that means it’s probably too complicated to use in a time-sensitive environment. Any time you take an action at a poker table, you should be able to explain it in 20 seconds worth of time—online, that’s all the time you’ll get in the first place. Now that I’m done with Reason #3, everything is either a bluff or a value-bet. My mind is clearer, my choices are easier. Killing Reason #3 makes a world of difference.

The remaining content of Chapter One is still the foundation upon which poker understanding rests. Knowing how to quickly define value betting and bluffing is the first step to playing good, rational poker.

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