Friday, March 14, 2008

The Post of Bluffs

I was replying to this post when I realized I should just make a new post about bluffs. Bluffing is one area I need to work on in $6-$12 LHE, especially if I desire to move up in stakes later.

These ideas aren't new. Many of them are from The Book of Bluffs:

And some are from the Theory of Poker:

Thuan, in a comment, suggested a semi-bluff raise move on the turn. A similar move is a turn check-raise semi-bluff if you are out of position but then you lose the opportunity to check behind on the river if you hit and no longer need to bluff (i.e. holding Js 6s on a board of 3s Kd 5s Th Jd you no longer need to bet the river since you hit a pair). I've definitely done those before, not recently though. I pull a lot of raise semi-bluffs on the flop, but I should probably be doing more on the turn and following through with a bluff on the river if I miss.

Like Thuan said, there are a number of key elements to make a bluff work:
  1. Your opponent needs to be able to fold. Not a trivial problem.
  2. You should only have 1 or 2 opponents otherwise the risk someone will call you down is too high.
  3. Your bluff should tell a believable story.
  4. (optional) Semi-bluffs are much safer than pure bluffs. Even two outs reduces your risk since 5% chance to win the pot has a lot more value than 0% (I think Theory of Poker does the math on this).
I won't lie, I need to make more bluffs. I think I attempted more bluffs early on, but since then I've tightened up a bit. Actually, I do a lot of semi-bluffing on the flop, but play pretty straightforward on the turn. One of my goals for my session tomorrow night will be to try a few turn bluffs.

Here's a list of bluff examples. If you've got other ideas, leave a comment!
  • Steal with follow-through: I accomplished this last Sunday, which is really surprising since 6-12 is usually so loose. I'm in the cut-off and I raise T9s (not something I always do, but it seemed like a decent spot). BB calls, flop comes harmless (Q53), he checks, I bet and take it down. Seems like a minor move, but it earned me almost a full-bet and the BB will not usually mix it up there without a decent hand since the odds are bad.
  • Pseudo-bluff: This probably wasn't a bluff, but it felt like one. I was in EP and I raised with TT. 4 players called! Flop comes A84 rainbow, and I went ahead and bet when checked to. Everyone folded! I was so shocked... It just goes to show, if you raise pre-flop, it is worth betting any flop with an ace because players are scared of the ace. I won ten small bets with one bet risked. Works well if you raise KQo and miss though, often the small pairs will fold right there.
  • Flop semi-bluff raise: I won't list a hand here, but this is the standard free-card or free showdown move from late position. I use this a lot, often with my flush draws and sometimes even with an unpaired AK to get a free turn card and fold out some small pairs.
  • Flop semi-bluff check-raise: Like above, but out of position (typically, the blinds). This is useful if the flop comes 844 with two spades and you have a spade flush draw with a late position bettor. You can free up outs and represent trips. The thing I don't like about it is you'll pretty much have to fire on the turn and river and risk getting raised on the turn.
  • Turn semi-bluff raise: This is Thuan's hand, but the idea is the same as on the flop. In position, you raise the flop and turn bettor with a flush draw. You might get a fold immediately but if you don't (and you miss) you should fire at the river to keep representing two pair. Definitely +EV.
  • Turn semi-bluff check-raise: I like this one less, because you really need to have a board you can represent a check-raising hand on. I don't do a ton of check-raising, so when I pull this move it is less believeable. Good boards are possible (obvious) straights, three-card flushes, or a paired board to represent trips.
  • Orphan pot on the flop: With a few players in a limped pot and a raggy board (Q52 rainbow) sometimes it is worth taking a shot at the board in late position with any two cards. Just shut it down when you miss (unless you have one of those players that will call any flop bet then fold the turn a lot of the time). Harder in early position but possible.
  • Orphan pot on the turn: On a low flop that checks through, it is often worth firing at on the turn. It looks consistent because many players won't bet second pair until the turn (or if a low card pairs) and you are offering the other players such bad odds that they'll often be mathematically forced to fold even flush draws. Of course, for that reason, this works better online than live -- live players will call you down no matter what the odds are.
  • Float and bluff scary cards: This is one that Thuan and I have been talking about more lately since it has come up at GC. On a three-flush board on the turn, especially if the pre-flop raiser keeps firing and you are in early position, you can call the turn and then fire at the turn. Often, since the PF raiser has something on the board or a pair, they are unlikely to have a made flush and probably (50-75%) don't have a flush. So you'll pick up the pot enough to make some money if you know the raiser can fold. You could even get someone to fold a low 5th flush card (I've seen players get bluffed out by a set when they folded a 7 or 6 of the given suit). Four-flushes are great for this move because they are so darn obvious.

I know there's more spots, but I can't think of them now. So, to close out the post, I'll share a conversation Thuan and I had about floating scary bluffing cards and leading into the raiser:
I have AJo UTG and raise it. It folds around to the big blind and he calls. He's been playing quite loose pre-flop but seems to play well post flop. I haven't seem him call down too much and lose, he semi-bluffs draws, and he check-raised me on the river at one point when he hit a flush on me. I'd say he was one of the top players at the table except he had a VPIP of like 60-70%.

Flop comes KcTc9x. He checks, I bet, he calls. Turn is 4c. He checks, I take a look to see if I have a club (I don't) and then I bet right after I look. The river is the Jc and he leads out. I'm getting 5:1. What should I do?

sheesh... anyone that loose will usually have what they're representing. If you say he plays well post-flop, then he isn't calling you w/nothing on the flop esp. if you raised UTG and have your usual table image. So, he may even have a weak King w/a club. I guess he could have AcT, Ac8, etc... and lots of hands that beat you. Can he have a hand that you could beat? This depends on your read. Sure, but again if he's good, he'll put AK has a big possibility for your hand and wouldn't call the turn w/o a club. I think you can lay this one down because 4/5 times you are beat. what did you do?

Yeah, I laid it down. How could he have possibly called the turn without a club? He flipped over T7 of hearts. I said to him... is that a bluff? Because I honestly couldn't remember the board (who knows, maybe there was a 7 out there?). Assuming there wasn't, that was a genius bluff (or desperation, I can't tell which).

Normally I don't like getting bluffed out, but this hand I didn't feel bad about at all. It was just a really great bet on his part. In terms of odds, especially if I hit the board (which I would in most cases) there's basically 1/4 chance I have a club plus a decent chance I'll call him with a queen, two pair, or a set. I'd probably call him half the time in that spot, so his one bet bluff is actually highly +EV. In that spot, should we be making that bet 100% of the time?

BTW, if I was getting 10:1 or more, I would have called.

This is a very, very advanced play on his part... It's actually something I've done in the past as well. You don't just play your cards, you play what your opp. is afraid of. He's basically betting that you will fold if you have no club or a club smaller than x. THis is not a bad bet at all bc he will win at showdown a small percentage of the time. So if you add in your fold equity, he has probably 17+ outs (straight, two pair+, scary flush). There was 1 guy at my table who i'd try this against. Anyway, do you see how he set up this bluff? It wasn't done out of context... he played the hand exactly how he would've w/a club. In a way similar to NL...sometimes you call w/nothing to set up a bluff on a later street (I've seen this a lot on High Stakes)

Originally, I was gonna say that you should call because his range is so wide, but I think this is pretty close to 0EV, anyway. Besides, if you're not getting bluffed out ever, then you are calling too much. The funny thing is... you say that you'd call w/10-1, but in that case there would've either been more players in the hand or lots of raising. In either case, I'd say it's MORE likely that he'll have a club. I think this is the hard part about poker. Sure, you're getting better odds, but I think he's much less likely to run that bluff.

Yeah, you're talking about the 'float', which is pretty common in NL. Call without odds with the intention of taking the pot away later. I definitely haven't seen the play very much at limit, mostly because it is so hard to get a fold. Obviously, in this spot, he did a great thing and was near optimal against my hand. The thing is, if the straight card didn't complete the flush I probably will pay him off (gutshots are hard to hit in that spot). The flush card was just a little too much for me to do it (I figured that he had to have a club to call the turn, but I should know better). Assuming I had a king, then he had 5 outs to two pair + the flush bluffing outs (if neither of us have one, then there are 10 outs for him). That's 15 outs and he was getting 2 + 1 + 1 or 4:1 (oh, crap, I think I was getting 6:1 on the end there). Really though, ignoring the cases where his second pair is good, he's getting 4:2 on the bluff since 1/4 of the time I'll have it and call him. Geesh, I'm confusing myself. How can we analyse this?

How about straight EV. Assuming two pair or better is good for him, he's getting 4:1 with a 8:1 shot... well, lets add in a call on the end to pay him off, so 5:1. That means he'll win 5BB about 12% of the time and lose 1BB 88% of the time = -.28 BB.

But, a club will hit about 22% of the time (I'll assume a club doesn't hit when he improves). He'll bet, and 25% of the time I'll call him and he'll lose 2BB on the deal. 5.5% * -2 = -0.11 BB. The other 75% of the time, he'll win the 4 BB in the pot so he'll get 22% * 75% * +4 = .66 BB. Meaning the float and bluff a club is worth 0.66 BB.

Wait, I did the math wrong, how about this:
22% club + 78% no club = 100%
22% club + 12% he improves + 66% he misses and folds = 100%
5.5% get caught | club + 16.5% succeed | club + 12% he improves + 66% he misses
-0.11BB + 0.66BB + 0.60BB - 0.66BB = +0.49 BB

Wow, that's pretty high EV!

Note the first number I computed (-0.28 BB) was the EV for just the 5 out draw with implied odds. If we include the bluff cards it actually softens the blow of drawing against odds to almost even out.

Another common situation would be if you are up against someone with AA or similar (and they've bet it down) and the river has four of a suit. Then the bluff only works 50% of the time, and the math goes to:
-0.22BB + 0.44BB + 0.60BB - 0.66BB = +0.16 BB

Much less +EV, but still worth it. Plus, this was on the small end for a pot -- if the pot size doubles, then the win EV approximately doubles, and even for the 50/50 situation of the bluff working, you are look at about 1BB EV!

I think this is something we should incorporate into our repertoires, especially against the type of people who fold disgustedly on the river thinking they're tight players. In a three-way situation, obviously the EV goes way down though, and it is better to be in EP than LP (since EP looks less like a bluff). Bluff-raising might have similar odds too.

BTW, I actually had a guy try this on me. We had a pretty big pot with three of us in at the turn. I held KcXc for a made flush, the guy behind me had been betting the whole way, and the guy in the SB was an aggressive, tricky player (ATP) with at least $600 in front of him. Anyway, if I remember correctly, I think I led into the three-flush board after ATP checked, and Ron (the LP guy with a big pair) moaned and groaned and called. ATP thought for a while, then called. The river came a fourth club and ATP immediately leads out. I moaned and groaned but called since I was getting over 10:1 (I can't lay down a Kc or even Qc or Jc there) and Ron immediately folded. ATP says "You got it" and flips over 76s for maybe a gutshot draw and no clubs. That was a beautiful play by him because Ron taking so long to call indicated no clubs (it was easy to put him on a big pair the way he was played the hand and took so long to call on the end -- someone with an Ac or Kc in his big pair would have called quickly). So ATP only needed to worry about me, and it is back to the 50% spot above, plus I might lay down a mini-flush. The only downside is I had already represented a flush, so it is more likely that I'm going to call.

Wow, I just wrote a book there. No matter, I'll post it on the blog. Mostly, I'm happy that I was able to mathematically analyse the situation.
Ok, that's it for now, let me know if you have any common bluffs to add to the list!


Thuan said...

The thing about turn bluffs is that it IS more scary for your opponents. At these stakes, people don't usually raise on the turn w/o a hand. I remember one session where I was in EP and called a flop bet w/some draw. The turn paired the middle pair. So I CR bluffed. It got called on the turn, but not the river. I'm not sure what my opponent had, but I'm sure he had me beat.

In my opinion, every thing is a semi-bluff... the difference is the pot equity you have. Where do you draw the line between bluff vs. semibluff. Either way, you add the fold equity to your chances of winning in order to decide if it's a profitable move. The fold equity depends on the credibility of your bluff story... that's why flop bluffs don't usually work, but the turn bluff is more powerful

Sean said...

In my opinion, every thing is a semi-bluff... the difference is the pot equity you have. Where do you draw the line between bluff vs. semibluff?

If I'm most likely drawing dead (i.e. no pair on an ace-high board) that's not a semi-bluff. I typically want 4+ outs for a semi-bluff (which includes two overs, gutshots, flush draws, etc.) although I realize that is arbitrary.

Mitchell said...

Nice list...Book of Bluffs is an excellent book.

Actually, in B&M rooms, I think you can add poker tells into the list of bluffs.

You can give a tell or reverse tell to get an opponent to call or to fold to your bet. I've done it....but it has to be planned ahead of your play.

(Last try on leaving a comment--here goes)

Anonymous said...

btw... i'm glad you open-raised from the cut-off w/T9s... I think you've got too much fold equity to not play do this... Even if you get called, you will connect with a ton of flops. Plus, it adds to an aggressive image. In fact, I think this is something that you should normally do from that position.

Sean said...

Mitchell: Thanks for the comment. I took a look at your site and your Razz book/info and it looks pretty good. Too bad I could never find a reliable razz game at my stakes :) I've always liked the game though, it seems more straightforward than most stud-like games and there's lots of opportunity to bluff.

And you bring up a good point about reverse tells. You'd obviously need to be up against someone paying attention to tells, but you could absolutely sell your bluff. For instance, if the board pairs, make a sad sound, take a few moments longer pretending to pretend that you are worried, and then raise. The sad sound tell is reliable enough that you might get a reasonably savvy opponent to fold due to your false tell (a good opponent could see through it though).

Thuan (a.k.a. Anonymous): The biggest problem with stealing in the GC 6-12 game is I only get like three hands a night where no one has entered a pot when it gets to me in late position. And usually those hands I have 82o :)

My stealing range is pretty much any suited connector, suited aces, kings and queens, and/or any two cards above a ten. Generally. Honestly, I need to steal a little more.

Mitchell said...

I'll tell you my best bluff was a reverse tell.

It was a no-limit cash game. And, a player (who later finished at the main event, final table at the WSOP) raised in front of me. The blinds were like $3-$5...I called his $30 raise with pocket 9's.

The flop came 9 high....he checked. He had about $800 left and I also had about the same amount.

I knew he was slow playing a big hand. Just then, I noticed that there were 2 cards to a flush on I moved all in and use a reverse tell....

I held my breath...meaning I was bluffing/on a draw--he took forever to decide--and I was dying...but he eventually called with Kings.

Man, he gave me a dirty look when he left that table--because he knew it was a reverse tell being used against him.

Sean said...

Mitchell: I normally wouldn't characterize that as a bluff (since you were essentially bluffing that you were bluffing); I'd normally call that a trap (with a reverse tell like you said).

Of course, most things in poker are not exactly cut and dried. You could easily define bluffing as deceiving another player, which you definitely did. Either way, you got him to stack off for $800 with only $60 in the pot, which is an awesome play.