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Bluffing Loose Players

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Dec 25, 2013


Andrew BrokosConventional poker wisdom holds that there’s no sense in trying to bluff loose players. They won’t “understand” your bluff anyway, they won’t know that they are “supposed” to fold, and they will call down with all sorts of hopeless hands, so don’t even bother. Just wait for big hands and then value bet them to shreds.

As generic advice goes, this isn’t so bad, but it is generic, and there are a lot of exceptions. In fact, there are some bluffs that actually succeed more often against overly loose, generally less skilled opponents. To bluff such players effectively, you just have to be realistic about your goals and form an appropriate plan, one derived from the way they think about poker rather than the way you think about it.

Another common complaint about loose players is that “they can have anything.” There’s a sense in which that’s true: loose players will call large bets with hands that tighter players would fold, and so will occasionally flop an odd two-pair or drill a gutshot-straight draw on the turn. It is, in fact, harder to determine the exact two cards that a loose player holds than it is to figure out the same for a tight player.

“Hand reading,” however, is a misleading term. No matter who your opponent is, it’s rarely feasible to deduce his exact hand. It really ought to be called “range reading,” because your objective is to get a sense of all the different hands a player could hold based on the actions he’s taken so far.

Bluffing doesn’t have to be about trying to make your opponent fold one specific hand. More commonly, it’s about recognizing situations where he has a wide, and therefore weak, range. The objective isn’t to make him fold every single time, but rather to make him fold the weakest 60 percent or so of his range. Even a pot-sized bluff needs to succeed just 50 percent of the time to show a profit, and if you’re only trying to get your opponent off hands with no pair and no draw, then you probably don’t need to bet anywhere near that big.

Loose players, precisely because they are loose, tend to have wide ranges. You may never know exactly what they do have, but you know what they rarely have, and that’s a strong hand. A player who never folds two suited cards preflop is going to hold hands like 10Club Suit 6Club Suit a lot more often than 10Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit or JClub Suit 5Club Suit when the flop comes JDiamond Suit 5Heart Suit 2Diamond Suit. Rather than lamenting the fact that your loose opponent might have just flopped two-pair or a flush draw, realize that most of the time he’ll have absolutely nothing. If you yourself have nothing as well, a small bet can be all that’s required to take down the pot.

If this play sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because the continuation bet is a common example. You raise preflop, get called, and then follow up with a bet on the flop, banking on the fact that your opponent will miss the flop more often than not and give up.

This is an example of a play that actually works better against loose players than good, tight-aggressive ones. Better players will understand what you are doing and take appropriate counter-measures such as floating or bluff raising. Even their preflop strategy is designed to preempt your continuation bet, because unlike their looser counterparts, they aren’t often calling preflop simply to see whether they get a piece. They know that more often than not they won’t get a piece, and that they can’t afford to call preflop just to fold to a continuation bet on two-thirds of flops.

Once you understand how and why this sort of bluff actually works better against looser, less sophisticated opponents, it can change the way you play against them. For example, suppose that in a $1-$2 no-limit hold ‘em game, the action folds to you on the button with 6Club Suit 3Club Suit. The player in the big blind is notoriously loose and loves to see flops. Do you open?

You should. If it seems counterintuitive to raise with six-high when you know the big blind is going to call, think of it this way: you are setting up a very profitable flop bluff. Precisely because this player will call with so many hands preflop, he will hold a weak hand on the flop overwhelmingly often. Even if he stubbornly chases hands like gutshots and backdoor-flush draws, he’ll still end up folding the flop often enough to make a small bluff profitable.

Suppose that you open to $10 preflop, and he calls. After the rake, we’ll say there’s $19 in the pot.

He checks to you, and whatever the flop is, you bet $10 again. Over two streets, you’re risking $20 to win $19. If he never folds preflop and folds 60 percent of flops, you profit an average of $3.40 from fold equity alone. In other words, this doesn’t take into account that every once in a while you’ll actually make a good hand and have a shot at winning an even bigger pot.

By the way, we’re ignoring the small blind for the moment. His involvement could certainly complicate things, but in most cases it won’t be sufficient to make this play unprofitable.

Interestingly, if your loose opponent folds preflop, you actually do less well. You win the $3 from the blinds rather than $3.40 that you know you’d average if he called. So as long as you are willing to be appropriately aggressive on the next street, your opponent’s preflop looseness makes your bluff more profitable.

What if your player is loose on the flop as well? First, realize that if he’s calling with a wide range preflop, continuing on 40 percent of flops is already a lot, especially if he also three-bets his strongest hands preflop. Just to hit 40 percent, he’ll have to continue past the flop at least sometimes without any pair, flush draw, or open-ended straight draw. Before you say that your opponents “never fold,” realize that that means you think they will call your bet with JDiamond Suit 6Diamond Suit on a 10Club Suit 5Diamond Suit 2Heart Suit flop.

But OK, let’s say you’ve got a sticky player making calls like that. He calls tons of hands preflop and on the flop, enough to make the strategy we’ve discussed so far unprofitable. Should you stop trying to bluff him?

You could, or you could keep firing. Just as a player with a wide preflop range brings a lot of weak hands to the flop, a player with a wide flop calling range brings a lot of weak hands to the turn. So if you know he’s sticky on the flop, put the second barrel out there. If he’s sticky on the turn, fire the third barrel. He has to fold jack-high eventually.

Players who complain about loose opponents tend to zero-in on specific cases where a player makes a weird two-pair or straight and wins a big pot. What these players overlook is that something has to happen to all those weak hands when they don’t connect with the flop, which of course they won’t most of the time. All you have to do is figure out at what point your loose opponent gives up on a hopeless hand, and then keep firing at him until you reach that point.

It’s all about learning to see the wide bottom of his range instead of the very narrow top. It’s true that you shouldn’t generally try to bluff a loose player off of a remotely good hand, but you don’t have to. When your own hand is weak, simply making a loose player fold all of their airballs is a worthwhile venture. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.