Poker bluffing is one of the most misunderstood parts of poker. Some players are obsessed with showdown value. You see this a lot with fish who give up on poker bluffing at just the wrong moment. For example, when they river 5th pair they decide now is the time to be conservative and just check. Weak players are not alone in making mistakes bluffing. In fact, many weak regs share similar behaviours with fish when it comes to bluffing. You’ll often see a weak reg checking back at just the wrong moment, or they give up on semi-bluffs because they Turned or Rivered something ‘showdownable’. Turning their ‘made hand’ into a bluff is unnecessary they say. These players fail to realize: It doesn’t matter if you have showdown value if your hand cannot win at showdown! Let’s run through a few scenarios where these situations tend to crop up.
Ex1: River Bluffing a Medium Strength Hand
Hero with 9♦9♠ on the BTN vs UTG, 100bb effective
Villain: 22/20, UTG open 18%, Cbet- 75/65/60
Villain opens UTG, we call on the BTN with 99 and everyone else folds. The Flop is 4♦7♣8♥. Villain is the ‘if in doubt, bet’ type and he quickly cbets 2/3 of pot as expected and we call. The Turn is a 6♦ and he bets 2/3 pot again. We presume our opponent would double barrel a back door draw like A♦K♦, K♦Q♦ etc, so we presume his range is made up of semi bluffs and hands like overpairs, sets and the occasional A4s-A8s from this 18% opener. However we turned a gutter, may still have the best hand and we can see how he plays on the River.
The River is a 2♠ giving us a board of 4♦7♣8♥6♦2♠ and now he bets again, but tanks and only half pot… This is not a pretty board run out for an UTG range. And we know this guy likes to bet bet bet if in doubt. Is our 99 any good here? We have to ask ourselves ‘what do we beat?’ This bet sizing stinks of a blocking bet on this board run-out from a scared overpair or maybe set. We are beat off everything barring a poorly played A7s, or A8s. He’s not really trying to get us to fold either with this bet size so a missed draw is unlikely too.
His range, bet size and tendencies lead me to believe our 99 is not good enough, enough of the time here. Since we lose at showdown more often than not and we can rep a ton of hands we would play this way (45s, 56s 9Ts, A5s, 75s), we should turn our hand into a bluff. A good hand reader should fold a 1 pair hand here and even a set. He will know this board can hit our range fairly often and river bluffing in this manner is thankfully not yet common place in Holdem so we should receive some credit. We shove, he tanks and folds.
The above is a great example of creative poker bluffing. When we take opportunities to play exploitively and bluff creatively in poker that can dramatically boost our win rate. However, a word of caution with this, if you do it poorly the results can be catastrophic.
Ex2: Hero with 7♦8♥ in the BB vs BTN min open 100bb effective
Villain 28/22, 70% BTN open, cbets 85/35/30, bets river 40%
We call a min open from the laggy BTN with 78o and go heads up to the 7♦T♣3♠ Flop. We comfortably call his cbet because we know he gives up on a lot of Turns without equity. The Turn is a J♦ and he checks back as predicted. The River is an unfortunate A♥ which brings up yet another overcard, of which there are around 120 combos in his range given he will have every Ace here. He seemingly paired the Ace as he promptly bets 40% of pot for some thin value. I don’t like a call here since he isn’t really trying to get us to fold with this sizing should he be bluffing. We had showdown value before that Ace fell but given his small bet which we interpret as a value bet, we now don’t. Here is another spot where I would throw in a substantial check-raise, pot size or bigger.
Let’s think about this. Draws, over pairs and sets bet the Turn. If he had AT, T7, T3s they bet the Turn. If he cbet with overs and hit the J♦, he bets AJ, TJ, J7 and J3s too on this semi connected board. So by the River that leaves A3 and A7 we are afraid of calling our bluff. He’d have to fold A2, A4, A5, A6, A8, A9 and likely AQ, AK too (nearly 100 combos). We can rep’ 89, KQ and more 2 pair and sets than he can. When was the last time you successfully called a river check raise with 1 pair? Indeed have you ever? It’s a powerful move and very effective vs the right opponents in the right situations when we are very aware of our opponents range and how he plays it. We put in a pot –size raise and he quickly folds.
Ex3: Hero with A♣6♣ in the BB vs SB, 150 bb effective
Villain 32/16, SB steal 30%, Fold to 3bet 50%, Fcbet in 3bet pots 40%, Fold vs river bets 65%
It folds to Villain in the SB and he tries to steal from us. We are deep and are going to mount some pressure on this weak looking regular. He tries to see too many Flops and folds too often by the River when he does. We 3bet to 11x and he quickly calls. The Flop is J♠8♠5♣ and we cbet 55% of pot with our overcard and a 2 backdoor straight/Flush-draw. The Turn is the K♣ and we barrel our equity on this scare card. We put pressure on hands like Jx, 8x and other draws this character will have such as 67s, 9Ts, Q9s etc.
The River is the 6♦, our draw bricked but we Rivered some showdown value. What would you do here? Yes you’ve Rivered some showdown value BUT we only beat draws that missed on the Turn. There will be at least 4 times more Jx, 8x and hands like 99, TT, etc than missed flushdraws here, so to check back is pokering suicide. You have to follow through with this story you’ve told and turn your hand into a bluff! If he had a big hand you’d have found out before now especially deep with several draws out. You make it a near pot bet, he thinks and folds.
As you can see poker bluffing is complicated, challenging, and fraught with risk. In order to be successful at poker bluffing you will need an in depth understanding of your opponents ranges, creativity, and guts :). Good luck with your poker bluffing! Be sure to check out Exploitive No Limit Hold’em for more in-depth exploitive poker strategies.
Edited by Paul Ratchford –