My Favorite Bluffs
Exploiting a tight image
this column, I am going to discuss some of my favorite no-limit hold'em bluffing
situations. But before I do, let's discuss bluffing in general terms. You need
two things going for you in a possible bluff situation to make a bluff
attractive. One of them is the table image of a tight player who does not bluff
very often. In my case, this comes naturally as a result of not entering many
pots. I like to start with sound values, especially in cash games, as the amount
in the pot at the start is not enough to get me excited. (Tournament poker is
different, especially if the event has been going for a while and antes are
being used.) My bluffs do not get called very often, which makes it look like I
hardly ever bluff. The second thing you need is an opponent who can be persuaded
to lay down a hand. Some people pay little attention to how you are playing and
are always suspicious. The best bluff may not work against a Doubting Thomas.
Now let's discuss specific situations in which I think a bluff has a fine chance
of winning the pot.
When you are in the blind in an unraised pot, you could have anything (except a big pair). Low cards on the flop should get you thinking about a steal. My favorite flop for larceny has a fairly low pair on the board and a lower card, with no two-flush. An example of this would be 6 6 2. I like checking, hoping to get in a check-raise, rather than betting. When you make your wager, this leaves no doubt in the opponent's mind that you are claiming to have trips. If the button is the person who bets, he is more likely to have a 6 than the other players, but he is also more likely to have little or nothing. I will pop him just as frequently as I would pop some other player in the hand. If everyone checks the flop, I would again check the turn, going for a check-raise. Keep in mind that you are making this a one-shot move. If the check-raise gets called, I would go no further, figuring I have run into either a real hand or a player who is suspicious that I am bluffing and is willing to try running me down.
Another situation that's ripe for a move on the pot is when you have called from under the gun and there is a raise behind you. Conventional wisdom is that pocket queens or jacks up front should raise, whereas aces or kings are to be varied in play, sometimes raising and other times just calling, hoping to get in a reraise. I do not differ with this general philosophy, but I do like to exploit it by sometimes limping from up front and then reraising on a steal, representing a big pair.
My general approach up front is to play only the real premium stuff, folding hands like Q-10 suited and small pairs. When I limp from up front, I am sure that my more astute opponents start having suspicions right away. Yet, they are going to raise after my limp when it is obvious that their hand calls for that action. A reraise by me is going to look a lot like pocket aces or kings. Furthermore, I would always whack the pot a large sum of money, definitely more than just a pot-size raise, whether I had a big pair or a larcenous heart. My opponent is getting the wrong price to call, hoping to improve. He has to be looking at a big hand or run the risk of my holding what I am supposed to have (which is actually quite a large risk to take against a solid citizen like me).
When you limp and get raised, if there are several players who call the raise, you should not be deterred from a reraise simply because you have a large field to beat. Normally, the only person in the whole field who might be able to play against a large reraise is the original raiser. The rest of the players have limited their hands by failing to reraise initially. If you are in the right situation to consider a limp and reraise, be sure to watch the raiser after he has whacked the pot, to form an opinion on whether or not he is likely to hold a big pair. Quite a few players will give you some idea of how good their hand is by how attentively they watch the play after raising.
What sort of draw does a player with a made hand fear the most? That's easy; the flush draw. Whenever a three-flush comes on an unpaired board, anyone who does not have a flush is worried that someone else does. True, there are more straights than flushes, but players often believe they will cross that bridge of an opponent having a straight when they come to it, since they do not want to freeze up in the betting whenever a possible straight is on the board.
Most players will tell you that the value of a straight draw is diminished whenever there is a two-flush on the board, as two of your eight outs are not to the nuts, and you risk the chance of hitting and still losing. This is the right philosophy in a multihanded limit hold'em pot, but I would not be too quick to extend it to the situation in no-limit of being heads up against the preflop raiser with position on him. Frankly, when holding a straight draw with a two-flush on the board, I feel as if I have an extra 11 outs!
Look at the math. The opponent is going to be suited less than half the time, and will rarely catch a two-flush in his suit. I would guess that the chances of a player who has a big enough hand to raise preflop showing up with a flush draw on the flop are less than 10 percent. If the flush comes on the turn and he checks, when the money is deep, I feel as if I have already won the pot.
These are a few situations in which a bluff has such a large chance of success that it is hard for me to resist trying to steal the pot. In these situations, a player like me who plays few starting hands in deep-stack money games is able to exploit his tight image. Having some white hair doesn't hurt a would-be thief, either!