Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Do I Bluff?

Yesterday, PokerandPeaking ask me the following question:

"I'm just wondering how much you bluff and how aggressively you play your hands"? Another words Do I Bluff?

The simple answer is Yes.... and No... OK, so maybe not so simple. Let's go into a bit more detail.

Do I Bluff?

One could say that if you are not bluffing, you are not playing poker. While I somewhat agree with that, the hows, whens, whats and whys is what makes bluffing such a beautiful thing.

First off, I rarely, if ever, do a Hammer type bluff. Meaning.. I hardly ever just choose a hand and go crazy with it. To me, I just don't see the advantages of it.... except for maybe it is fun.. especially when it pays off. Now, on the other hand, it may be appropriate to bluff with it; but before we get into that, I want to lay some ground rules of this post.

All of this post will be directed towards short handed limit play. My current flavor of choice is 3/6 Shorthanded. Why this is my flavor of choice will be discussed a little later. Next, if you don't have any aids such as Poker Tracker and/or PokerAce HUD, then stop reading right now and go get them. Collectively, they cost $75 and are worth their weight in gold. And lastly, every situation is different so the decisions are always changing. This post is just to get an idea of what I think about during hands that I think it might be worth taking a stab at with a bluff.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.

I mentioned that there are times when I would bluff raise with the Hammer (72o). That time might be when I am on the button and I have 2 pretty tight people that are prone to fold to blind steals. Yes, this is a stat on PT and you need to know how the people play around you... especially the 2 people to the left of you and the 2 people to the right of you. So, if I have two loose people that will call almost any blind steal, then I don't do it; but I won't hesitate at all if I have a couple of tight people to my left.. especially if the Big Blind is tight.

Now flip that around and I am now in the BB and I have a guy that loves to blind steal; but can be pushed away from it after the flop; but for the most part, I will never raise/bluff with a bad, bad hand such as 72o. It's just not worth it to me... Now semi-bluffing is a whole different story.

What is semi-bluffing? In my humble opinion, semi-bluffing is when:

1) You are on a draw such as a open ended straight draw or flush draw
2) You have middle or bottom pair
3) You have top pair with a poor kicker in a multi-way pot.
4) You have an inside straight draw and maybe some overcards.

To me, this may be one of the single most important parts of playing poker... especially limit poker. In order for the above things to pay off, you need to be getting the right kind of odds. One way of doing that is by semi-bluff raising. This will get the necessary chips into the pot to make it worthwhile in the long run. You need to be thinking in the long run when you do this type things because obviously you will not hit your draws every time so that is why you need to increase the pot sizes for when you do hit those draws that will help offset the losses.... not to mention that you might just take the pots down without showdown... which to me is the ultimate goal. I don't need monster pots. It's all about accumulating chips.

Here's an example from last night. I had 86o in the BB. There were 4 limpers and I also checked. The flop gave me an open ended straight draw. SB check and so did I... It checked around to the button and he bet and the SB check raised... hmm... Cold calling is out of the question here because it tells me nothing of where I am at in the hand. I'm either folding or raising.. I decided to raise it and everybody folded except for the SB. The turn brought an Ace.. Yikes.. didn't want to see that... or did I? SB checked and I immediately bet out... he waited and folded. Who knows what he had; but the point is that this semi bluff put me into the lead and made the SB make the decisions. While this was not a monster post, it was a nice sized pot and these are the type pots that I never used to win.

Now what if he would have called or even raised the Turn. This is another important factor. You need to know when you are beat. Now, it is time to re-evaluate whether or not you have odds to continue. Like I have mentioned before, saving the bets when you are beat and making the value bets is where you win. Just because he check raised you doesn't mean that you still don't have odds to call.. Since you have built the pot up earlier, you may very well have odds to see a river.

Let's say that you don't hit your straight on the river and the SB for some reason checks to you again. You're pretty sure that he will call you so you also check and show your busted draw (I realize that you probably just muck your cards; but I'm sure you know what I mean). In my humble opinion, this only helps you because it gives the maniac type perception from the others... and as we know Perception is nine tenths of the law in poker.

Of course, there are going to be times when you are just not getting cards. You have to continue to be patient as usually the cards will come. For example, I was stuck around $200 last night after about an hour of playing. Between bad cards and draws not hitting or second best hand itus, I was in bad shape. I continued to be patient and ended up with a profit of $121 after 621 hands (2.37 hours). Taking a look at some of my stats last night will kind of illustrate what I mean:

VPIP: 29.85 (usually mid thirties)
Preflop Raise: 13.73 (usually between 16-18)

I just wasn't getting the premium hands and my preflop aggressiveness was obviously down... and that is OK. Because I was patient, I ended up making 8.54 bb/hr (as adjusted for multi-tabling). With rakeback, you can add another 2.25 bb/hr giving me a nice 10.79 bb/hr... or $65/hr. My total aggressive factor was 3.08 (the usual assumption for aggressive behavior starts at 1.50) which is right around average for me.... so another words, I continued to be aggressive even though I wasn't winning early and made the important lay downs when it wasn't right for me to keep going.... which included QQ and 99 and KK when I knew I was beat.

Which brings up another point. You have to be ready and willing to throw those extra bets into the pot knowing full well that you don't have the best hand.... and may have to muck the hand. If you are not comfortable with doing that because of the level you are playing you need to move down. This part of the game is so important and if you can't make these bets then you are only costing yourself (as opposed to saving because you are not betting). After my prolonged downswing, I am very comfortable at the present time at the 3/6 level even though I have a bankroll more suited for 15/30.... unless you go by the 1000bb rule for short handed play that Scurvy posted about the other week which I think may be a bit much. I may move up next week to 5/10 shorthanded next week. We'll see how this week goes. Right now, I am content with my win rate.

There is one more thing that I want throw out regarding bluffing which may seem a little backwards. We all know that position is the name of the game in poker. The later the position, the better because you will know how the rest of the table is going to act. Well, from a bluffers standpoint, early position is the best. Why is that? Well, a bluffer wants to put pressure on the other players and one way of doing that is by betting out in early position or doing some check raising. Almost all preflop raisers are going to bet out on the flop when it is checked to them. These are the times that are golden for a bluffer.. especially if it is a low board. Other types of boards that are good for bluffers are when the board has a pair on it... or if the board is all of one suit. Take some stabs at these pots and see what kind of pressure is put back on you.

One rule that I like to follow is to never fear the monster. While others will have those monster hands every once in a while; more often than not, they will not have it and will fold to your pressure. Play around with it and see how it works.... especially on those tighter tables.

Pokerpeaker also asked if you have to have cards to win or can you clear a winning session without any good hands and that I must since I win all the time. Truth be told, I only wish that I won all the time. Unfortunately, I do not. As I wrote during my August-December downfall where I lost almost 60% of my bankroll... Sometimes it just doesn't work out. Variance can be a very rewarding thing or a very painful thing. Patience is the key. You just need to keep looking at things in the long term. You also just need to find that game that fits you the best. I am a big overall loser in full ring limit games; but short handed has been a completely different story. Find out what works best for you... maybe it is Full Ring... maybe it is No Limit or Pot Limit... Maybe it is SNG or tournaments... maybe it is Stud or Omaha... Keep looking and you will find a game that fits your style and play.

So in review... Do I Bluff... You bet I do.. I just try to be smart with them. Semi-Bluffing is still bluffing and it helps put in you in control of the hands that you play. Selective aggressiveness and selective bluffing will help add $ to your bankroll. Just be smart about it. Does it work all the time? Absolutely not... Continue to keep your eyes on the decisions and not the results. In addition, look at your results in the long term as you will run through rough stretches.

Good Luck!!!



Wes said...

Excellent post. I seem to be the opposite of you, a winner at full ring games, but a slight loser at shorthanded games.

Michael said...

Great post, Will.

Mark said...

Good post. Just a couple of comments:
1) In your hand example with the straight draw from the big blind, you say, "Cold calling is out of the question here because it tells me nothing of where I am at in the hand." I think that reasoning may be a little bit off. The reason you raise here is in hopes the semibluff will work later on in the hand, not so you can find out information. The semibluff here is more of a value bet.
2) On the turn, you say, "Since you have built the pot up earlier, you may very well have odds to see a river." That is true. But just to clarify: it is -EV to build a pot early so that you have the odds to continue later.
I also think 1,000 big bets is a bit much for a bankroll requirement, but then I also sometimes wonder if more is better?
Good luck at the tables!

d said...


On the subject of "Find out what works best for you...", if the originally commentor enjoys having more opportunities to bluff, then it might be worth considering playing more SNGs.

The frequency of how often you will be raising someone off a better hand is easily an order of magnitude more frequent in an SNG compared to a limit ring game.

WillWonka said...

Good points Mark.. I'll stick to my guns on number one... first off, I'm trying to take cold calling 2 bets out of my repotoire and I still believe it wouldn't tell me anything if I had just called. If others were strong they would have either called or reraised... since they folded and only the SB called, I was pretty sure I was in good shape... so maybe we are just talking sematics because it is indeed a value bet.. sort of...

2)I agree with you; it is not something I do just to do and I don't do it every time. That is definitely what I meant about selective aggressiveness and selective semi-bluffing.

d said...

Another comment on the original poster's question about "a winning session without any good hands". (This may only be true in full handed, not SH but...) If you look at the poker tracker stats of virtually any winning limit player, you would see that the profits from AA and KK will be larger than the total net profit of all hands. In other words, AA and KK do not even compensate for the loses you take on all other hands. Generally speaking, it will be extremely unlikely you can have a winning session if you are card dead.

Slimeface said...

This is great commentary. I can appreciate the importance of patience more and more all the time.

David said...

I'm not sure about raising for info, either. The SB probably checkraised just to get heads up and put pressure on the button, and your three bet probably caught him off guard. He probably had something like middle pair and was banking that you missed and the button was making a standard position play and was trying to consolidate his position.

Calling two cold is a sin preflop, but I don't necessarily think that it is bad on the flop. You need two people in to make your OESD +EV on its own merits, so the 3-bet loses you some cash, but increases your fold equity. Do you have a method for estimating fold equity once the cards are running or are you like, "Heyy, look at that, he folded?"

The A coming off was the perfect card for you. If a Q, a J, or a blank came off, where do you think that you are at, and are you + or -EV for hand?

cc said...

I probably agree with the post-flop cold calling rather than three-betting, although three-betting also makes sense for another reason: it is half the price of either a turn raise or turn call. Three-bet flop may get you a free card on the turn, may get you x% of your turn bets to take down the pot (as your illustration did), or may prevent a raise on the turn (that you either call or fold to). I don't three-bet enough, so I like your suggestion of using it more often.

The A or K on the river can be a great card to bluff at on the river if rags (T or less) were bet aggressively until then. I've stolen more pots than I've lost staying in with a draw, not hitting the flush or straight on the river, but betting out top pair or overpair on the river. Normally, I get some sort of chat flame about horrible players staying, this site being dreadful, etc.

Nice, thoughtful post for a cripple (or should I say carpally-challenged?).

pokerpeaker said...

Great advice, Will, and thank you for turning my questions into a post. I took two things out of it:
• I need to loosen up my ring game play a bit. Usually I've found that tight play works fine because there are so many aggressive donkeys, but it really does limit your play because it is so predicated on good cards. The cards still need to be there, but I need to semi-bluff more and aggressively take more advantage of the opportunities as they are presented to me.
This is more challenging because I prefer no limit to limit, but I still believe it's possible.
Strangely enough, I tend to play this way all the time in tournaments, even outright bluff, and as a result I've had great success in tournament play. I've had winning success in rings as well but not as much. I play rings because they are profitable, you can clear lot of money in a short amount of time and you can clear bonuses, but they are also dangerous because you can LOSE that money, too, and that's why I tend to tighten up, when in an SnG or a tournament, you can only lose your buy-in.
• It's OK to have losing sessions. Not all the time, of course, but sometimes, the cards just don't go your way, regardless of how you play or what you do.
I have often found that I do better if I quit when I lose a buy-in or quit when I lose some money in a hurry, as I did last night. Greenstein talks about quitting while you are losing, and that, I believe, is the reason I am a winning player since October, up by quite a bit, actually (not WillWonka numbers, but a good amount).
Thanks Will.

PokerSweetHome said...


Great post. It's as if you are reading my mind. I believe that we made the switch to short-handed at about the same time ... we did the same reading. (Jason Pohl articles, etc.) and have both found success.
I like the re-raise on the button on your OESD hand. In shorthanded, selective aggression is the name of the game. I think that you are doing three things there ... getting information from the button. If he caps, he is more likely to have a good hand. Second, if the button folds, you have taken position for the turn. Third, you are representing a stronger hand than you have. (the semi bluff part). The motivation is the same on all counts: set yourself up for with favorable circumstances for the later betting rounds.

I have a move that I have been making lately that falls into the realm of "pure bluff". It has been working to great effect, but the conditions have to be ideal to give it a go. The set up is this:

1. I am on the big blind
2. A good player has open-raised and everyone else has folded. By "good player", I mean someone that is capable of laying down a hand.
3. My table image is relatively tight. (I have either shown down my recent wins, or I haven't won anything in a while, and I haven't shown any recent bluffs)
4. I have cards good enough to call the raise, but I'm not re-raising.

The move is pretty simple, and I'm sure you've seen it before. Here's an example:

I have 9To on the BB
MP(good) open raises and it is folded to me.
Flop: 8 5 2 rainbow
Raiser bets
You smoothe call.
Turn comes blank (say a 4)
Raiser bets
You raise
Raiser folds

I would say that if the conditions are right the move will work probably 75% of the time. Most pre-flop raisers will have two high cards as opposed to a large pocket. If you meet resistance on the turn (re-raise), then give up unless you have odds to draw.

Anonymous said...

It's not:

"Another words Do I Bluff?"


In other words, Do I Bluff?

i am picky about wording ;)

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