The Big Bluff
Table image wins you pots and it loses you pots regardless of your holdings! I played 3 tourneys recently at the River Rock Casino in Vancouver. I final tabled 2 of them. The only reason why I didn’t have a hat-trick to final all 3 was because I ran into a cooler just two spots before the final table and I dropped out 11th in that one. I had trip jacks and ran into trip jacks with a better kicker but things like that happen. It’s all part of the game and there’s nothing one can do about it. Neither me nor my opponent is going to fold top set in the late stage of a tourney. Folding there would be simply horrible play.
Anyway, that’s not what I want to discuss today in this blog. What I want to write about is a big bluff I was running against another opponent in a hand just a few orbits before that. Now bluffing is a part of the game for sure but it is way overrated because the less you bluff the more you win (or the less you lose would be a more precise statement here). So why bluff at all? Well, if one only plays the strong hands and never balances its range he will never get action on the good hands he is holding since people will label him as a nit that only plays premiums. Those premium starting hands don’t come by too often and when they do you don’t want everyone folding after you entered the pot. The key here is to ‘balance’ its range by playing weaker hands and garbage (air) as well the same way as one would play the top part of its range.
I was in middle position and playing fairly snug when I opened the pot for 3 BB with an 8-4 off-suit. This is more than just a loose raise. It’s either a steal move (which will never be successful from middle position) or a bluff. My intention was to do some ‘flop mining’ with this hand hoping that I just get one caller and when the flop either hits me hard with 2 pair or better (flush and straight possibilities are not present, so either 2 pair or a flopped set has to be it, since just hitting one of the 2 cards will certainly be an under-pair to the board and very difficult to proceed).
The guy to my right 3-bet me (re-raised) to 10 BB and the rest of the table folded. Now it was back to me. ‘Abort mission and simply write the 3 BB off’ was going through my head and I guess that would have been the correct play after already having a foolish raise from my side with 8-4 off-suit…‘so cut the losses short and move on!’…but wait! There was this little red devil sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear: ‘Raise! Raise! Raise!’ I must admit that the temptation was huge but that would commit me to go with the hand knowing that I am a big underdog after a re-raise pre-flop!
So instead I just flatted the 10 BB out of position and decided it was time to run a ‘Controlled’ bluff by not re-raising and committing all my chips. The flop came down A-A-K! What a wonderful flop to bluff at! I checked and the guy bet out a pot sized bet. Surely the flop hit him in some way or he had at least queens, but most likely he had better than queens! Since I was not bluffing at all up to this point (unless I had one pot that gave me the pot right away and no one saw that it was a bluff) I decided to check-raise him on this flop and to give up if he comes over the top. The reason why I was fairly confident that this play would work was the fact that he was a thinking opponent, and my raise pre-flop and then calling his re-raise right there shifted my range to the top notch holdings in his eyes, which certainly includes any combo of ace and king holdings.
By checking the flop I did show even more strength in his perception, since if I held an ace or a king or A-K for that matter, I would have either flopped a full house, a set of aces, or top 2 pair, and there was no reason to bet out. The right play would be to check and let the opponent catch some sort of hand, since the ace is the ultimate scare card on any flop and there were 2 of them, and that usually freezes the action. And so if he does not bet out he shows weakness after my check, just taking a free card and hoping to improve, and that will show me that he is weak and I can take it down on the turn with a good sized bet. So he had to lead out and did it for 20 BB. I raised him right there to 50 BB basically committing him to the pot if he decides to call or shove.
Again this was in line with my previously showed (and perceived strength) and I played the hand in a way that would conclude that A-K was the most likely holding, from the pre-flop action to my re-raise with the check in between on the flop. After a few minutes in the tank he folded his king face up and was disgusted to see my 8-4 off-suit. However on the other hand he congratulated me for this great play.
If you bluff you have to tell a story that is consistent from the first to the last action you do in a hand. There is no way this bluff could have gone through if I had just limped pre-flop and called a raise or if I had bet out on that scary flop. He is never going to fold his king there. The story you tell has to be extremely consistent and there is no way to turn a weak hand later into a successful bluff if you showed at any point weakness in the hand or took a free card.
The reason I showed the hand after he folded was to show the table that I am capable of bluffing and thus they will call my raises with weaker holdings which I will have to adjust for after this hand. But now I have set the stage to get payed when I hold a monster! The monster came as described in my prologue but unfortunately I did run into the cooler there holding 10-J suited out of the big blind on a board of J-J-2…the guy held A-J!
I have to say though that it was extremely fun to play this way and I can’t wait to go back and try some more!