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Lesson 9: Bluffing, Slow Playing

"Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts." - Clare Booth Luce

You're playing in a no limit Texas hold'em tournament, and you've been dealt the 72. Everyone passes to you on the button. You're sure that the blinds won't call, so you raise. And you win the pot, successfully bluffing (stealing, in this case). Bluffing is extremely important in no limit Texas hold'em (as many are now seeing by watching the World Poker Tour); however, it is of much less importance in Omaha.

Woody Hayes, the late Ohio State football coach, liked to say of the forward pass, "Three things can happen when you [pass], and two of them are bad." Well, when you bet, even if you hold nothing, three things can happen and two of them are good: you can win the pot then and there (everyone folds), you can win the pot later (and the pot will be larger), or you can lose the pot. If it were only that easy.

Some Facts About Bluffing

Most of these are true in all games, be them hold'em or Omaha. First, you can't bluff a calling station. If they are going to call you holding nothing, then you will have to show down a real hand. Second, bluffs are easier to run when you are in late position. You have fewer players to 'run the bluff by.' Third, the split pot nature of Omaha makes it more difficult to bluff. You may be bluffing for high, but if low is possible players will stay with low hands.

What does this mean for Omaha? Well, in most low limit games at least four to six players are seeing the flop. There are a large number of calling stations. This means that in some games you will never be able to bluff. Also, knowing your opponents is paramount. How many calling stations are in your game? Will your opponents call you at the river holding two pair when the nuts is a flush?

Situational Bluffing

Here's a hand that I played at the Bellagio in a $6/$12 game a couple of years ago. I was dealt the 2236 on the button. Seven players, including both blinds, saw the flop of Q77. Everyone checked. The turn was the 9. Everyone checked to me; I bet, and three players called. The river was the 9. It was checked to me; I bet and took the pot.

I call this situational bluffing. Because most low limit Omaha games are loose (lots of callers), you need the right situation in order to bluff:

  • No low draw on the flop
  • No flush or straight draw on the flop
  • You're in good position (last or second to last to act)
  • If there is a flush draw on the turn, you hold the Ace of that suit
  • You believe that no one is slow playing

If you look at the example hand you can see that all of these factors were in play. The flop was ugly: no low draw, no flush, and no straight draw. I could have bet the flop, but I had never played with any of my opponents (I live in Southern California and do not play in Las Vegas that often) and did not have a strong read on any of them. When the turn made the board even uglier, and everyone checked, my bet had a high chance of succeeding; after all, I could hold a seven. The river bet was mandatory once I bluffed on the turn.

Another bluff that can work is when you hold a hand such as A27J, and the flop is
K93, and only three of you have seen the flop. You elect to bet, and everyone calls. The turn is the J, you check (representing a flush draw that hasn't gotten there), and it is checked around. The river completes your 'flush' (7), and you bet (you also have two pair, but if you're called it's unlikely to be good). I did this a few days ago, and when my two pair dragged down the pot (one player, who said he had a Queen-high flush folded; the other player with pocket Aces called) he said to me, "The next time I hold a flush I will call you down." Great, I thought, another way an occasional bluff can work: the next time I bet I will be holding the nut flush, and the other player will be throwing his or her money away.

In low limit Omaha, you will not win large pots by bluffing. But, perhaps, maybe once in a six-hour session you will be presented with the opportunity to bluff. If it takes a while for you to find that opportunity, don't worry. The situations are relatively rare; you need a lot of factors to align. You can win in low limit Omaha while never bluffing (because most of your opponents are playing way too many hands).

Slow Playing in Omaha

Over the past few months I've noticed a lot more slow playing by my opponents in Omaha games. Again, I attribute this to the World Poker Tour. People see traps being set on television and think that they can do it too. While slow playing is a useful skill in Omaha, rarely will you want to engage in it.

When you bet (or raise) you have at least one of the following goals:

  • To Increase the Pot Size
  • To Decrease the Number of Opponents

When you slow play you are allowing drawers a potential free card. Given that there can be a large number of draws - even draws for quads hit occasionally - allowing free cards in Omaha can be deadly. Additionally, if you have the high, you may be allowing players chasing a low the right odds to stick around. The nature of low limit Omaha is such that even if you flop the nuts with redraws you will likely get some callers if you bet! Thus, why would you want to slow play?

There are a few situations where slow playing is correct:

  • Jackpot situations
  • Flopping the nuts (perhaps with redraws), and someone else has raised the pot
  • You want a large pot, and you are certain that someone will bet for you

Although I'm not a proponent of jackpots, you will find them in most low limit games. When a rare hand (e.g. quad eights or better) is beaten, you will win a (typically fairly substantial) jackpot. When I flop such a hand I will check - I want someone to catch up and beat my hand!

The other two situations are similar. You hold a very strong hand (usually the nuts one or both ways with redraws), you desire a large pot (because you think you're likely to win it), and you strongly believe someone will bet for you. Then slow playing makes sense.

In the next lesson we will look at raising. Some theorists (of Omaha) believe that there is no hand worth raising pre-flop. We'll look at pre-flop and post-flop raising in Lesson 10.

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