Hand of the day: Intelligent bluffing

CardRunners pro Eric ‘DamnRinger’ Burtzlaff explains why thinking back through the hand is essential when trying to pull off a big bluff

In a recent $1/$2 NLHE full ring game, I opened for $6 from middle position with A♠-Q♣. A relatively weak regular player called on the button, the small blind folded and the big blind – a very straightforward weak player – called as well. I put the big blind on a very tight range of pocket pairs, as well as some connectors like 6-7 or 8-9. The button had a wider range for calling and his hands could include pairs up to T-T, Broadways and some suited connectors. When the flop came down 9-3-2♠, I knew I was going to bet.

The key concept when you c-bet on the flop is that you must follow through and bet many turn cards, too. The big blind checked to me and I bet $15 into $20. The button called and the big blind quickly folded. At this point I was putting the button’s range on sets, as well as many speculative hands such as 9-x suited, 7-7, or a weaker hand that he was hoping to bluff with later.

Continuing the story

The turn was the J. I decided I was going to bet since it was a likely scare card for any pocket pair the villain was holding, and it put an overcard on the board if he had a hand like A-9 or T-9 suited. Also, it’s unlikely to have improved my opponent’s hand. Before I bet the turn though, I ran through all the hands I was representing by betting twice, and how those hands would continue if they got called on the turn. I think my likely betting range on the turn is 9-9+, A-9, A-J, K-J, Q-J, 2-2 and 3-3.

There are also some semi-bluffs in my range, too, like K-Q and Q-T. There aren’t many hands I could have that completely missed this board and that’s key. So I bet $34 into the $50 pot. The button thought for a while and made the call. At this point, I thought he was trying to hold on with the weaker part of his range, and putting me on some kind of bluff (like I have) or a semi-bluff. I think the sets and two-pair parts of his range would be putting in a raise on the turn.

The river was the K – the perfect card for my range. I bet $70 into the $117 pot. This is very consistent with a bet I would make for value. My hand looks strong on every street and my story adds up to the way I’d play Q-T, a set, or K-Q. The villain thought and quickly folded.

Think backwards

Thinking about every hand from the perspective of your opponent and his range is what allows great poker players to execute seemingly ‘crazy’ bluffs and make hero calls. The key is to trust your instincts in these situations and use logic. Many weak players will give an opponent credit only for A-K when considering bluffs. Don’t fall into the category of players who fail to think actively about all the possible hands in a range.

Be a player who thinks critically about every situation and always think about how your play ‘adds up’ in the eyes of your opponents. You’ll start noticing discrepancies in your opponents’ games that tip the scale to ‘he’s bluffing’ or ‘he’s always got a strong hand’. You will become a much tougher player to play against if you think backwards, as opponents will have a hard time deciphering which hands are bluffs and which are value bets.

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