Inside the Mind of a Pro – Sometimes you Just Have to Bluff

Pete Clarke | 1 month ago in Poker Theory and Concepts

Most low stakes players are far too straightforward. When pots get big and multiple bets are flying around, their ranges tend to be very weighted towards value hands. Beginners are often taught how to beat a very soft game full of weak players by being tight-aggressive, value-betting their good hands, and avoiding making investments in many other situations. This strategy might get you through 5NL ZOOM, but it will soon lead to stagnation when you reach the next few rungs on the ladder.

Game theory demands that we bluff often enough that our opponents cannot just fold every time we start piling money into the pot. Today’s hand a is a good example of making sure that you hit a high enough of a bluffing frequency. If we do not have a read that our opponent or the general population dislikes the fold button, then bluffing sometimes is a mandatory part of the game.

Pre-Flop

At 100NL Zoom (blinds are $0.50 and $1.00) it folds round to me on the BU and I make my standard raise to $2.70 with Q♠9♠. The BB, who is an unknown player with a full stack 3-Bets to $10.00. I make the call.

This defend is likely to net me a small amount of money relative to folding. My investment to call is $7.30 and this will become part of a total pot of $20.50. If I can get back 7.30 / 20.50 = 36% percent of the pot on average by calling, then this investment will be break-even – any more than this and I start to profit by calling. Against a normal BB vs BU 3-Bet range, which spans about 12-15% of starting hands, my equity is around 40%. Since I am in position, I will have more control over the pot-size than Villain and more information on each street. I expect that 40% equity here will translate to perhaps even more than 40% of the pot if I can use my experience to outplay this opponent after the flop.

Flop

The flop ($20.50) is 7♣5♥4♠ and Villain makes a standard continuation bet of $6.00. In game-theory, he is advised to use some bigger bets than this as his range contains a lot of hands that are very vulnerable to overcards and interested in building the pot sooner rather than later. For example, with holdings like 88-JJ, for example, this bet will be sub-optimal as I can profitably call many hands in position.

On low unpaired boards, the pre-flop raiser wants to deny more equity to his opponent by using larger bets.

Villain’s c-bet needs me to fold less than 25% of the time to start making a profit and so it is important that I defend most of my range here. If I held diamonds, I could consider this hand the very bottom of my range and make a fold, but with a backdoor flush draw, two overcards, and some backdoor straight possibilities, my hand is too good to fold for this price. It is not that I am relying on hitting a 9 or a Q, or backdooring my way into a monster. Some of the expected value (EV) of this flop call comes from bluffing the times Villain holds two overcards and gives up on the pot. These combos will be the majority of his range, especially if he c-bets too wide here which is a common leak in the pool.

From my point of view, I need to be entitled to less than 20% of this pot to call such a small bet and so folding is probably too tight with this hand, despite its poor prospects. I make the call.

Turn

The turn ($32.50) is the 2c – not the best turn for me, but not as bad as an A or K, which would hit many of Villain’s unpaired hands. Villain checks. This is an action that he should take with a lot of big A-high since these hands are now best suited to bluff-catching. He can also check a few of the less vulnerable overpairs to protect his checking range. AA and KK make the best examples of these since they do not want to fold out my unmade hands which can now bluff or improve to a second best hand on the river. Villain’s 7x hands can also check now. These combos block me from having a value betting hand and make it more likely that I called the flop with something like the hand I have. Hands that Villain should rarely check here are the more vulnerable overpairs like 88-JJ.

Since I do not have enough straight and flush draws to only bluff when I have a redraw, I need to do some betting with naked overcards too. This hand has absolutely no showdown value and so will make a reasonable turn bluff with the option to follow through on the river sometimes. If I always bluff with hands like Qs9s, then I will end up overdoing it. This time, my random number generator rolls a high number and so I decide to bluff this hand. Against an unknown, there is no reason to suspect that this play is either very good or very bad. Villain calls my bet of $23.16.

River

The river ($78.82) is the 5♦ and the board now reads 7♣4♠5♥2♣5♦. The best hands for me to bluff now are lower cards which block my opponent’s 7x hands. He is most likely to check call both turn and river with hands like 76s 87s and 97s. He might also sometimes have QQ here. My hand is therefore a reasonable bluffing candidate. Note that it is good that I do not hold any clubs as Villain can call my turn bet with some flush draws that are now check/folding. I do not want to block these hands from existing by holding a big club.

It will be close to break-even against a theoretically solid opponent to bluff here. I will need around 44% fold equity to shove the remaining $60.84 into the pot. In order to defend 56% of his range here, my opponent needs to call with all his 7x and probably a small amount of hands like AK and AQ. If he always folds these unpaired hands and occasionally folds a 7, then he will be dramatically over-folding. I think that 7x is a much more normal call in game-theory than it is for the average regular at these stakes, so I decide to shove.

Villain starts tanking. And then tanking some more. He activates his time back. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. And…….He calls at the last second. How demoralising! He shows 76o. My opponent’s 3-Bet was a little strange. This is a hand that will quickly turn him into a maniac if he 3-Bets it with any meaningful frequency. Now how was my river bluff against this player?

Probably very profitable. If 7x is this much of a painful call for Villain, I would imagine that weaker hands like 66 or AK are being folded almost always. For this reason, I like bluffing when the choice is a close one in this pool. Many players are wary of calling bets with good bluff catchers like 7x as they are too focussed on their absolute hand strength.

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