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What Are You Representing?

What Are You Representing?

by Ed Miller |  Published: Aug 10, 2011


Ed MillerA friend recently asked me about a hand he’d played. It was a $2-$5 no-limit hold’em game in Las Vegas. Two players limped in, and my friend made it $30 to go in the big blind with AClub Suit KSpade Suit. Both players called; all three of them had about $500 behind.

The flop came ADiamond Suit 8Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit. My friend bet $60 into the $92 pot, and one player called. The turn was the 7Spade Suit. My friend bet $120 into the $212 pot and again was called.

The river was the QSpade Suit. My friend shoved all in for $410 into the $452 pot.

“I wanted to represent the flush,” he told me.

I asked him a few questions. Why did he bet the flop? He said he bet because he thought he had the best hand, and players with worse aces or flush and straight draws would call. So far, so good. Why did he bet the turn? My friend sputtered a bit, but eventually said he still wanted worse aces, and flush and straight draws, to call.

Why did he bet the river? To represent the flush, he said. Why did he want to represent the flush? Because the pot was big and he wanted to stay aggressive to win it, he said.
We had a problem. I asked a few more questions. Did he think someone with a worse ace would call his all-in bet? No, the bet was too big for that. That was the point, he said, to get his opponent to fold. I asked him if he thought his opponent would fold a flush. Of course not, he said. How about a straight? Probably not. How about two pair? Maybe, he said. He probably wouldn’t have folded A-Q, but might have folded something like 8-7.

Would he have raised 8-7 on the turn? Probably, he said.

So, why did he want to represent the flush to scare away his opponent? Because, he said, I wanted him to fold so I’d win the pot. At that point, he was looking at me like my neural circuits were not firing correctly.

I explained the problem with his thinking. He made a bet that rarely would get called by worse hands and rarely would fold out better hands. The purpose of the bet, in my friend’s mind, was to get his opponent to fold hands he could beat like busted draws and weak pairs. That made no sense.

We talked about the hand some more, and it became clear to me that my friend was simply enamored with the idea of representing a hand he didn’t have. The flush card came on the river, and it gave my friend the irresistable urge to convince his opponent that he had the flush.

The concept of representing a particular hand is, in my opinion, vastly overemphasized by the average small-stakes no-limit hold’em player. I ask students why they’ve made a bet, and far too often their answers are, “To represent a straight/flush/full house/royal flush.”

Representing a hand is never a legitimate reason to bet. There are two main reasons to bet in no-limit hold’em: to get a worse hand to call or to get a better hand to fold. (In some cases, you can also bet to get worse hands to fold, but it’s usually not a reason to bet by itself.)

Let me repeat the point, because it’s an important one. You should never bet to represent a particular hand. You bet because you want worse hands to call or you want better hands to fold.

OK, you might say, getting better hands to fold is bluffing. If you want to bluff well, you need to represent a hand that will scare your opponent, right?

No, you don’t. Sure, it’s convenient if your betting tells a good story about having a hand you don’t have, but in most cases it’s not necessary.

Bluffing isn’t about you, it’s about your opponents. It’s about the strength of your opponents’ hand ranges, and it’s about how willing they are to fold those hands. Say the board on the turn is 10Diamond Suit 8Club Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Club Suit, your opponent checks, you bet, and he calls. The river is the KSpade Suit. This is often a good spot to bluff. Why?

Straight and flush draws abound on the turn. By checking and calling, your opponent likely has either a draw or a single pair. With two pair or better on a draw-heavy board, many opponents would raise. The river card bricks every available draw and puts an overcard on the board. Your opponent’s range is now very weak, comprised mostly of busted draws and pairs lower than top pair.

What are you representing when you bluff this river? Nothing in particular; maybe you have a set, or maybe you have pocket aces. It doesn’t really matter. If you shove the river, more often than not your opponent will look at his weak hand and say, “I can’t call that bet with this hand,” and fold.

Representing a hand helps on the margins. Say your opponent has A-10 on the 10Diamond Suit 8Club Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Club Suit KSpade Suit board. You shove all in. He’s skeptical. Maybe he makes a hero call. Maybe if you had a better story to tell, a hand to represent, he would have folded. Fine.

However, A-10 is close to the best hand he’s likely to have. Most of his possible hands are worse than that, and he just folds. The bluff is good because your opponent is weak, and the fact that you aren’t representing anything doesn’t hurt you badly.

Likewise, bluffing into a strong hand-range usually is a bad idea, even if you have a hand to represent. How many times have you heard someone say, “I think you have the flush, but I’ll pay you, anyway”? This is what small-stakes players do when they have a strong hand-range — they recognize that they’re often beaten, and then they call, anyway.

So, don’t worry so much about what you’re representing. It’s an important concept in higher-stakes games and against tougher opponents who read hands well, but at the small-stakes live games, it’s almost not worth thinking about. Bet for value when you think your opponent will call with worse, and bluff when your opponent is weak. If you stick to that formula, you’ll avoid fuzzy thinking, and you’ll be a stronger player for it. ♠

Ed has authored six poker books and sold more than a quarter million copies. Ed’s newest book, Reading Hands at No-Limit Hold’em, will soon be available for purchase at Find him on Facebook at