Playing winning poker is all about knowing when you can step out of the theoretical box. One of the primary means of achieving sound exploitative play is pattern recognition, and more specifically anticipating spots where ranges are likely to be underdefended in the face of aggression. This spot starts with a routine button open with A♠9♦. I pick up two callers.
This hand would really rather have avoided going three ways but my EV is still decently high. My combo will want to check behind on most flop textures though due to the meagre showdown value it usually flops
The flop of Q♠7♥5♣ is no exception. My hand is medium in that it can win at showdown and only improve to fairly mediocre one-pair hands. In other words, we rarely want to play a big pot here and would prefer to be against wide ranges even if we hit our hand. While a c-bet probably isn’t disastrous, checking back this hand is normal.
Let’s explore the likely ranges for our two opponents when SB leads for one third pot and big blind calls. There are two things SB should be doing here theoretically which would make him tough to play against and that most people are not doing.
- Villain should be using a small sizing as standard in a multi-way pot even for some of his strong and nutted hands. Most players who have a flatting range in the small blind are recreational, and most recreational players do not put enough good hands into their small betting range here. Therefore, Villain is likely to be under-protected – weighted towards marginal pairs and draws with the odd sprinkle of nothing.
- He should realise that I do not have a lot of clear value raises in my range if I raise the turn since I cap myself by checking behind on the flop. This means that it could be easy for me to bluff too often if I’m not careful. And if there’s one thing I’m certainly not, it’s careful. All of this means that SB will have to defend sometimes even with quite weak holdings if his small sizing caps his own range and precludes him from having bigger hands.
When BB calls the small bet, he suffers from a similar ailment to the SB; only his range is even more capped. While it is possible that SB is disciplined enough to use smaller bets with very strong hands sometimes, or that he is afraid of people folding to a bigger bet, it is very unlikely that the big blind wants to slowplay a big hand on this wet of a turn with two enemy ranges to worry about.
At times, you can use the wetness of a board against your opponents because you can infer with confidence that they would have wanted to raise and protect their hand form the myriad of possible draws.
All of this analysis looks promising for bluff raising, but hand reading the opposition is only half of the battle. The rest is about hand selection so what do we make of my cards for raising here?
Firstly, I have a blocker to pair plus draw holdings and of course the nuts, but I doubt that the latter is relevant against these passive lines. I do not have a heart and while that reduces my immediate fold equity on the turn, it increases my eventual fold equity and even my showdown value by the river on non-heart run-outs because I leave more heart draws in the deck for my opponents to miss and lose with.
This leads us to an important rough rule about bluffing the turn and river.
Bluff the turn and give up rivers when you have a card which blocks flush draws when the draw bricks.
Bluff the turn and follow through on the river when you unblock flush draws when the draw bricks.
Like everything in poker, this rule needs to be considered with a very large pinch of salt, but as a general guide it will serve you well.
I do decide to go for the raise and my opponents give me the folds I’m looking for this time. Some players forget to bluff altogether in position here and while we don’t get to the turn with a massive array of mighty hands, we do turn some nuts like 76s, 66, and 98s. Moreover, we may want to raise the small turn lead and call with some of our decent Qx which checked back flop, like QJo or KQo. This means that we do need a bluffing range and our actual hand makes a fine candidate.
- Look out for times when the average player can fall into the trap of being too capped and under-defending. Look to exert pressure in these situations.
- If your range contains some very strong hands then you should remember to include some bluffs in your strategy.
- Follow through on rivers when you unblock busted flush draws and give up when you block them.
Join us on our Discord channel.