Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Finding Folds

by Ed Miller |  Published: Feb 22, 2012


Ed MillerThe past few weeks I’ve started putting together a new book. It’s written for regular $1-$2, $1-$3, and $2-$5 live no-limit hold’em players. The goal is to take average players at these stakes who neither win nor lose much over the long term and show them everything they need to be the best players at the table.

I compiled a list of all the common bad habits that average small stakes players exhibit. In doing so, I realized that there is a doozy of a bad habit that I haven’t written nearly enough about.

Once you learn not to play every pot and aimlessly chase big hands, you’re already doing ok at small stakes games. The biggest mistake players at this stage make is that they pay off way, way too often on the turn and river with second-best hands.

It’s the river in a $1-$2 game. The pot is $100. You check. I bet $60. If I’m playing a theoretically correct no-limit game, about how often should I be bluffing?

Well, if I’m never bluffing, then you can just fold all but your best hands. If I’m always bluffing, you can just snap me off with nearly any decent hand. I need to bluff enough that you’re forced to call to keep me honest, but not bluff so often that I’m burning money.

It’s $60 for you to call, and you win $160 if you catch me bluffing. That means you break even if I am bluffing about 60/220 of the time, or about 27 percent. This is roughly the right amount of bluffing. Maybe 20 percent. Maybe 30 percent depending on the particulars of the board and opponents.

What does that number mean? It means that, on average, about one out of every four of my good-sized river bets should be a bluff. It means that when I raise you on the river, about one out of every four times I should be bluffing.

So for every three times I make the nuts and put in a big bet, I should throw out an equally-large bet with air. In fact, the bigger the bet, theoretically the more often I should be bluffing.

Do you play like this? I’m sure you get cheeky now and then and toss out a bluff. But if you’re honest with yourself, if you’re like most small stakes players you’ll realize that you don’t bluff nearly this often.

This is the key. This article isn’t about bluffing more (though learning how to do that would help too). It’s about folding consistently to the bets of players who don’t bluff enough. Small stakes players, by and large, don’t bluff enough on the turn and river when the big bets come out. As a result, you should simply refuse to call them with your bluff-catching hands.

Here’s an example. It’s a $1-$2 game with $300 stacks. A player in early position makes it $10 to go, and a player calls. You call in middle position with 4-4. Two players call behind you, and the blinds fold. It’s five to the flop for $53.

The flop is Q-J-4 with two spades. Everyone checks to you, and you bet $40. The players behind fold, the preflop raiser folds, and the next player calls. He’s a relatively tight, older man. There’s $133 in the pot with $250 behind.

The turn is the 5 of spades. Your opponent checks, and you bet $90. While there’s obviously a chance you’re now behind a made flush, it’s more likely that your opponent still has a weaker hand that he might call with such as A-Q, Q-J, K-T (perhaps with a spade), and so forth. Your opponent calls. The pot is $313, and there’s $260 behind.
The river is an offsuit ace. Your opponent surprises you by moving all-in.

A spade flush is possible. There’s also a straight possible with K-T. A tight player moving all-in on this river represents a flush.

Specifically, it’s unlikely he would make such a bold play with a hand as weak as A-Q. With A-Q he might make a smaller, probing bet on the river. But I would not expect a shove.

Theoretically the man also could be bluffing. But in practice this is extremely unlikely. He’s called flop and turn bets, so he presumably had something of value on the turn. A bluff could represent a missed draw, but no obvious draws missed on this board. Even if the man called the flop with a hand like A-K with the ASpade Suit, then called the turn when he picked up the nut-flush draw, he now has a pair of aces and would be unlikely to try this shove.

Then there’s the fact that small stakes players don’t bluff enough. Even if a number of possible bluffing hands were available on the river, this player is unlikely to bluff with most of them.

What’s the bottom line? This guy has a flush. He’s bluffing very rarely. It’s unlikely both because there aren’t many bluff-worthy hands possible and because he’d be unlikely to bluff even if he had one.

It’s possible (though unlikely) he could show up with a made hand like A-Q, but if he can have that hand, he can also have K-T or a higher set which beats you.

You’re beat. Yes, you flopped a set. But you’re beat now, and this should be a routine fold.

For most small stakes players, this fold is not routine at all. A guy will move all-in in a hand like this one, and the player with the set will hem and haw. “You got the flush, don’t you,” he’ll say, trying to get a read. Then, after a minute or two, he’ll say, “I can’t fold. If you got it, you got it.” Money goes in. Flush is shown. Cracked set is mucked face-up to gather sympathy.

If you can learn to consistently make these folds when necessary, your winrate will see a big bump. Few small stakes players regularly make these folds. If you can win a stack when you make the flush, but get away from the hand when you’re on the losing end, you’ll create a large, sustainable edge for yourself.

The key is that small stakes no-limit players don’t bluff often enough when the big bets come out. This allows you to make big folds. If your opponent is representing a bigger hand than what you have, you usually have a fold.

People make these calls even though they know better because they fear that feeling of “not knowing” on the drive home. The thing is, you do know. In the example hand, and in many similar hands, the guy just isn’t bluffing. You don’t have to see it. Unless he misread his hand, you’re beat. Beat is beat. Release your hand and take comfort in the fact that learning to make these folds will help make you one of the best players in your games. ♠

Ed’s brand new book, Reading Hands At No-Limit Hold’em, is available immediately for purchase at Find him on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.