How to Bluff Against a Solid Player by Ross Boatman
When trying to steal pots in No-Limit Hold’em, you have to ask yourself questions like: "How likely is it that my opponent has a hand?" and "Does my bet (bluff) make sense in the context of the way the hand played out?"
Asking these questions is important. Answering them accurately is critical.
A recent example of a bluff and counter-bluff came up at the $5K No-Limit Hold’em event at the World Series of Poker. I was down to the final two tables and had 6-2 off-suit in the big blind. The small blind called and I checked. The flop came down J-T-6 with two diamonds. My opponent checked and I thought, "I’ll take one shot at this." I had a pair and position, and I was going to try to take the pot right there. When my opponent called, I pretty much gave up on the pot.
The next card came a diamond, making a possible flush, and my opponent checked again. I also checked, giving him a pretty good idea that I didn’t have the flush. The river card was a blank and he came out betting.
I knew I didn’t have a hand, but my read made me pretty sure he didn’t have one either. I didn’t think he’d hit a flush, and I knew I could make it look like I was trapping on the turn with a flush myself so, after he bet $16,000, I raised to $50,000. After about a minute, he let go of the hand.
Now, let’s take another look at the action here. When my opponent checked the flop, I saw the opportunity to make a play and tried to steal the pot. He obviously called with some kind of hand. We both checked the turn when the possible flush came and he led out after the river brought no obvious help to either of us. He could have been trying to trap me with the flush, but I just didn’t read it that way. When he tried to steal the pot, I couldn’t just call even though he almost surely had my 6 beat. Still, I was pretty sure I could make him lay down his hand with a raise.
For these types of plays to be successful, you have to think ahead of the bet you’re making and ask yourself how likely it is that the player has a made hand. He had to have a flush to call my raise on the river unless he thought I was making a play.
Any bluff or counter-bluff you make has to be calculated. Any play should be based on some information from the betting, the player, or from some any reads that you’re able to make. This one wasn’t so much a read on the player, but a read on the situation. Even though it was possible he had made his flush, I wasn’t convinced. That’s why I thought I could make him believe I had connected by raising on the river. To him, the action made sense. It looked like I’d made a semi-bluff on the flop, betting with a draw. I’d checked on the turn in order for him to bet on the river so I could raise him with a made hand. He was an intelligent player and I think that’s the way he read it back to himself.
You always have to try and gather as much information as you can before you make those kinds of plays. You need to know that the player you’re up against is intelligent enough to read the situation. You don’t want to be making an advanced play like that on somebody who’s not going to be able to make sense of it.
By making smart reads and taking advantage of these opportunities over the course of a tournament, you can help build your chip stack and put yourself in contention for the final table.