Skill #8. Exploiting Aggression – P4: THE LAST-DITCH EFFORT

Consider a type of over-aggressive players who create a weak betting range for themselves early in a hand by doing something they’d rarely do with a strong hand. Then they decide to run a bluff anyway. Here’s a classic example.

You open for $30 in a 5-10 game with $1,000 stacks. Two players call behind you, and the blinds fold. There’s $105 in the pot.

The flop comes J♥T♣5♥.

You check, the next player checks, and the button bets $70. You call, and the next player folds.

The turn is the K♦. You check, and your opponent checks. There’s $245 in the pot and a little over $900 behind.

The river is the 2♦. You bet $120, and your opponent raises to $400.

On the flop, the player on the button bets when checked to. This bet doesn’t necessarily signify strength, especially if the player plays lots of hands pre-flop.

It’s the turn action, though, that tips you off to weakness. When the board is J♥T♣5♥K♦, most players with strong hands would bet to get calls from weaker hands, and to charge the draws. So the check-back indicates a weak range. It’s not impossible that the player would check a strong hand or two. But the action in the hand thus far indicates a relatively weak hand range.

The river changes nothing. Yet, now the button player wakes up to a raise. This is a raise that’s unsupported by the strength of the player’s hand range. If this were a 1-2 game, I might well follow Skill #2 and fold, since despite the red flags about this play, bluff-raises at 1-2 can be quite rare.

But at 5-10, with on average a more aggressive player pool, I would consider calling even if my hand is guaranteed to lose should my opponent have a hand. There is a decent chance this player held a draw that bricked, and he views the river bet suspiciously after checks on the flop and turn. Instead of giving up on the pot, he’s making a last-ditch bluff attempt.

I want to emphasize that two concepts here conflict. The first concept is not to pay people off who don’t bluff often enough. The second concept is that you should challenge bets made by players who hold a weak underlying hand range. Whether to call a given bet or not depends on a judgment call about exactly how often a given player in general might be inclined to bluff.

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