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A Low-Risk Image Play

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Mar 19, 2014


Andrew BrokosIn a recent column, I wrote about how a desire to “play it safe” causes playes to miss a lot of profitable spots, usually bluffs, that don’t actually entail as much risk as it would seem. An especially low-risk bluffing opportunity arises when you believe you and your opponent have the same hand, and you make a big bet or raise in an attempt to fold him off of a chop.

In truth, this play still involves an element of risk. Even though you are freerolling if your read is correct (that is, you will get your bet back even if your opponent calls with the hand you think he has), there is a risk that you’ve made an incorrect read and your opponent actually has you beat.

This is a good example of a spot many players miss because of a misguided desire to play it safe. After all, a simple call or check is likely to result in some money getting shipped your way, and if you care more about not losing than you do about winning, go ahead and take the chop.

If, however, your aim is to maximize your winnings at the table, you have to be aggressive in these spots. The risk is extremely low relative to other bluffs you might consider, which makes it a cheap way to build an aggressive image that can help you get paid later. Two hands I played against the same opponent in a recent $5-$10 no-limit hold ‘em game illustrate this point.

He Calls For a Chop

I should say at the outset that I didn’t have much experience with this player prior to the session in which we played these hands. The way he carried himself and handled his chips may have led me to believe that he was more aggressive and prone to making moves than he actually is. It’s hard to say for sure, as we’re dealing with a small sample size here, but both of these examples begin with me refusing to give this player credit for a strong hand when he represents one, which was quite possibly a mistake on my part.

In the first hand, I opened with QSpade Suit 10Spade Suit to $30 two seats off the button. The button called, the opponent in question called in the small blind (SB), and the big blind (BB) folded.

With $100 in the pot, we saw a KSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 9Club Suit flop. The SB checked, I bet $60, the BB folded, and then the SB raised to $165. I wasn’t sure what to put him on, but big hands seemed unlikely. I’d been opening a lot of pots, and I expected that he would squeeze preflop with at least K-K and 10-10, if not 9-9. We were at least $3,000 deep, and I could easily have smacked this flop, so I also thought he would have wanted to raise bigger if he’d flopped the nuts with Q-J. I called, prepared to turn my hand into a bluff if I got a hint that that would be necessary.

The turn was a jack, completing the rainbow. My opponent bet $210, which led me to believe he was either bluffing or held a straight. I didn’t think he would bet a set or two-pair with four to a straight on the board. I called, wanting to give him rope if he was bluffing and also set myself up to represent a full house if the board paired.
The board did pair on the river, which was another 10. That was an especially good card to pair as it meant that the 10 in my hand was a significant blocker to my opponent’s having a full house.

He bet $350 into a pot of $850, a somwhat small bet that reinforced my belief that he did not have a full house. I estimated his range at about 80 percent king-high straights, 15 percent bluffs, and 5 percent ace-high straights or full houses, most of which would be threes or nines full.

This makes it a very good spot for me to raise. If my assumptions are correct, I’ll lose at most 5 percent of the time, and there’s a realistic chance of folding out even some slightly better hands, specifically A-Q or 3-3. My only regret is that I didn’t raise bigger. I made it $1,250, and he agonized a bit and then called with Q-J. Frankly I think that’s a bad call, as I have every combination of full houses in my range, so I made a mental note of it and also reminded myself of the effect that showing down Q-10 here would have on my image going forward.

He Calls For His Stack

In the next hand, a loose player in middle position open limped for $10. The opponent in question raised to $50 in the cutoff, and I made it $150 with KHeart Suit QClub Suit in the small blind. Everyone else folded, and my opponent called.

The flop came QHeart Suit 9Heart Suit 3Spade Suit. I bet $180 into the $325 pot, and he raised to $480. I wasn’t sure that he would fast play a set, and even if he would, it’s not easy to flop a set. I’d been squeezing a fair bit, so I thought he might just be playing back at me, perhaps with a draw of some sort.

Then again, we were nearly $4,000 deep, and there were no truly good turn cards for me — even if I hit a king or queen, I’d still have just a bluff-catcher — so arguably I should have let it go. In game, however, I called.

The turn was the KDiamond Suit. I checked. My opponent checked behind, which was fortunate because I had no idea what I would do if he bet. Probably folding would be correct, as I’d still be well behind sets, one draw got there, and my KHeart Suit was a blocker to his having hearts.

The river was a beautiful queen. Although it was possible my opponent paired the king and was not trying to show it down cheaply, I thought he was more likely to have either a busted-flush draw or a hand good enough to bet for value. So, I checked my full house to him. He bet $850 into the $1285 pot, and I raised him all in for about $2,400 more. After a lot of agonizing, he called with what he claimed was threes full of queens.

It’s possible he would have called anyway — folding a full house isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do — but there’s a good chance that the bluff I showed earlier won me an extra $2,400 here. Not bad for a play that cost me nothing even though it didn’t work. How’s that for a low-risk proposition? ♠

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.