I recently bluffed off 125 big blinds and felt like I played the hand pretty well. But, of course, I know that we poker players sometimes like to justify our actions despite evidence to the contrary, so I posted the hand to receive feedback from the forum members at my site, www.InternetTexasHoldem.com. I was basically seeking the answer to a very simple but important question: Am I delusional? What do you think?
Villain: X X
Hilger: 4 4
Flop: 7 7 5
This is a $320 tournament with 10-20 blinds in the first level. I have no reads yet on the villain.
Preflop: A player in middle position (2,430 in chips) raises to 60. I (2,570 in chips) call from the cutoff with the 4 4. The small blind calls.
Flop (pot: 200) 7 7 5: The small blind checks. The villain bets 100, I raise to 265, and the villain calls.
Turn (pot: 730) Q: The villain checks, I bet 495, and the villain calls.
River (pot: 1,720) 9: The villain checks, I push all in for 1,750, and the villain calls his remaining 1,610 and wins the pot with the K Q.
The Prosecution (Forum Feedback)
“Um, this looks like spew on all post-flop streets, with the possible exception of the flop. The river’s really bad.”
“I really, really like it up to the river, which I hate. … Had you been drinking?”
“Once the villain calls the turn, he’s pretty committed to the hand. The river card is fairly harmless, so he’s calling down a lot. That said, if I were the villain, I think that I might struggle to find a call on the river with top pair, second kicker; the problem is that a lot of his range is better than this.”
“I have no idea how one could call with K-Q here.”
“Why not float the flop? You can still pick up the pot on the turn with a smaller bet than 265 if he checks.”
“I like the turn bet. … The river looks like a really spewy play. I really don’t get that play at all.”
“4-4 is just about the worst hand to turn into a bluff on the flop. There are tons of better hands to turn into bluffs, like A-J.”
“Matthew’s play with 4-4 is likely to have +EV [positive expected value] regardless of whether bluffing with 9-8 suited or A-J offsuit has more +EV.”
“The problem with bluffing the flop is that you need to either barrel through with a hand that has virtually no pot equity against the range that calls it or check back the turn to see a showdown. … As played, the turn and river are awesome bluffing cards, and the villain’s call on the flop and river are really very bad.”
Most of the feedback questioned my flop raise and river bluff, so I’ll focus on the flop and river play.
Flop: This is a terrible flop for the villain’s range (assuming a typical raising range of the average player). By raising the flop, I put the villain in a really difficult situation with the vast majority of hands in his range. Yes, I’m effectively turning a decent hand into a bluff, but that is fine if the expectation of bluffing is higher than the expectation of playing the hand for value. Would I prefer to hold A-J? Yes, but that’s beside the point. I played my hand to flop a set, and then a perfect flop came for me to try to get my opponent off his hand, so I reverted to Plan B.
Some argued that I should float the flop, which is certainly a decent option, and less risky. However, there are some stack-size dynamics at work here that I used to try to give my bluffs some leverage. By raising the flop, I build the pot in such a way that gives me better bluffing power on later streets in the right situation (to get an overpair to fold). By raising the amount that I did on the flop, I can then bet two-thirds of the pot on the turn, leaving a full-pot bet for the river. That extra pressure gives a bluff a better chance. If I simply float the flop, there is only 400 in the pot on the turn, so a bluff into a small pot is unlikely to be successful. So, basically, floating is less risky, but it also takes away my ability to bluff if the right card (a spade) falls.
To summarize my flop play, I usually get overcards to fold on the flop, and when called, I have two outs to 4-4 and bluffing opportunities if a spade falls.
River: The first question that we must ask is, what range of hands do we put the villain on? It is unlikely that we can get flushes or full houses to fold, so the question is whether or not he holds one of those hands. Some players would three-bet a flush draw on the turn. You would expect many opponents to bet out a flush or check-raise, especially given the stack sizes after my turn bet (leaving only one pot-sized bet remaining for the river). Checking a flush or full house on the river is also quite risky, assuming that the villain isn’t expecting me to three-barrel bluff. I think his range leans heavily toward overpairs, with an occasional monster from a very tricky opponent and occasional trips (although I think that some opponents might even fold trips on the river).
The question now becomes, can we get an overpair to fold? To do that, we have to put ourselves in the villain’s shoes to narrow down our range.
On the flop, he might expect me to raise flush draws, straight draws, trips, or pairs. On the turn, he is in trouble against a flush, trips, or an overpair, but beats a busted straight draw or small or medium pocket pair. On the river, the straight has now hit (although it’s an unlikely hand of mine). He can’t beat a flush, trips, or a straight, and also would lose to A-A, K-K, or Q-Q. The villain can beat only a pocket pair. But to beat a pocket pair, it means that his opponent (me) would have to raise the flop with a pocket pair, double-barrel the turn, and push all in on the river as a bluff with the blinds at 10-20. There aren’t very many players out there who are running triple-barrel bluffs.
I think that it’s a very, very tough call for the villain on the river, and that a bluff should have a frequent success rate, especially in a $320 buy-in tournament. The one question that I had on the river was whether to bet two-thirds of the pot or push all in. I think that two-thirds looks strong enough to get the fold that I am seeking while costing me less when called.
So, was this just a good bluff gone wrong, or am I delusional? You decide.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.