Friday, May 18, 2007

When to Bluff

Seldom do you know exactly where you stand in a contentious hand. Most postflop decisions can be characterized as an "either/or" situation. For example:

_ Way ahead-way behind:

You have a good but not great hand, while your opponent either has a lesser hand or a powerhouse that he's slowplaying. This kind of situation could come up when you have AA on a JJ8 board -- you probably have the best hand, but you could be toast against trip Jacks.

Conventional wisdom says you should be more likely to control the pot size and try to see a showdown in these situations. Bluffing big is usually a bad idea because you won't get the trips to fold.

_ Way ahead:

If you make a hidden nut straight, the board isn't paired and there's no flush draw out there, you don't have much much to worry about.

Your only guiding principle in this situation should be to try to get as much money into the pot as possible. Whether that's by playing fast or playing slow is circumstantial.

_ Way behind:

Durr. I guess you should fold. Stone-cold bluffs can be an option depending on the board texture and your opponent, but it's often better to have a backup draw.

_ A little ahead-way behind:

This is a bad spot that I find frequently comes up on the flop with two-pair hands or ignorant draws. It can be very dangerous when you hold a hand like JT on a JTQ board with two suited cards. Unless your opponent folds immediately, a conservative (but money-saving) way of playing this kind of two-pair hand is to wait for a safe card on the turn before putting in much more money. You need to be prepared to let go if the action gets too hot.

_ A little ahead-a little behind:

These are the kinds of hands where it seems like you have the best opportunity to make a big bluff. When you have a strong combination draw, you'll be close to even money anyway, and by playing strong you can take down the pot without a showdown. Even a gutshot draw combined with a backdoor flush draw and a pair can give you enough equity to make a legitimate play at the pot.

These kinds of moves are semi-bluffs, which are the best kind because "pure" bluffs can be suicidal if you run into the wrong hand.

I'm not sure how useful this is, but it can't hurt to think about these relative hand strength possibilities when deciding how you want the hand to develop. It makes Level 2 thinking a little easier.

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