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Picking Off A Bluff On The Short Stack

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Feb 07, 2024

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Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

We were nearing the end of day 1b at the 2019 World Series of Poker Circuit main event at the Tulsa Hard Rock. The blinds were at 1,500-3,000 with a 500 ante, and I had a below average stack of 56,000.

In the hijack, I looked down at ASpade Suit 6Club Suit and open-raised to 6,300. I was called only by the button, a tough player who had about 75,000.

We saw a flop of JDiamond Suit JClub Suit 6Diamond Suit, and I bet 6,500. The button called, and we both checked the 9Diamond Suit on the turn. The river was the QHeart Suit. I checked, and then called the button’s half-pot bet of 16,000, winning against his AHeart Suit 5Heart Suit.

Let’s break it down!

Preflop, my play is pretty standard. It is folded to me in late position, I have an ace, and I make my standard preflop raise.

But since I have a very weak ace, it would not be wrong to fold and wait for something better. This is primarily true because I am such a short stack. Even if I play this hand well post-flop, I could still lose a huge portion of my stack. However, if I were a larger stack, it would almost certainly be a mistake to fold preflop.

Now, I get called by the last player I want action from, the button. He is a strong player, with position, so it is unlikely I can win a big pot unless I cold-deck him. And he will be able to steal a lot of pots from me when we both miss, given his position and skill.

However, I catch a great flop for my hand. Not only do I pair my kicker, but two jacks means it is highly unlikely he also hit the flop. I am either well ahead of him, and he has six outs or less, or I am way behind if he has a jack or a pair of sevens or higher.

Often the way ahead, way behind theory suggests you should check-and-call as the best way to lose the least and win the most (by inducing bluffs). However, here I am the preflop raiser, and my basic strategy is to always continuation bet against just one caller.

Given that he is unlikely to be ahead, will often fold now, and most turn cards will look dangerous to me, I decide betting is better than checking. If I check this flop, and he bets, it would be much too tight for me to fold. Moreover, since I am inducing bluffs with my flop check, it also means that I should probably call him down all the way almost no matter what the runout.

Thus, I prefer to bet here, as it will give him a chance to fold all hands that he feels are beat, such as K-Q, 9-8, and the like. He doesn’t know those hands have six outs, or that he has bluff equity against my hand.

If he has a jack, we are screwed, and can only hope to figure it out quickly and limit the damage. If he has an overpair to our sixes, we are drawing thin, and have to get lucky. Also, if he has diamonds, he won’t fold now, but at least we can make him pay for the turn card.

Unfortunately, he calls our flop bet. This is bad news, as it usually means we are beat, or he has a lot of outs (such as having KDiamond Suit QDiamond Suit, or ADiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit, etc.). It could also mean he is floating and is calling without a pair or a draw, and planning on bluffing the turn or river.

When the diamond comes on the turn, a check is almost certainly our best choice. Betting now would just turn our two pair into a bluff. And if we did bluff, what better hands will he ever fold? He is not going to fold trip jacks or a flush, and while it is possible, he usually won’t fold two pair hands such as 7-7 and above.

As such, betting here only gets him to fold worse hands (which is not horrible, as almost all those hands have significant equity). When we are behind, we are either getting called and putting more chips into a pot we are probably going to lose, or we are getting raised, and probably folding. Whereas if we check, we can call for the same price as making a bet, and see the river card.

This keeps us in for a lucky six on the river, and also wins more if he is bluffing. Plus, if we believe we are probably beat, we can fold to this bet, even though it might be a bluff. Sometimes, you are just going to get bluffed. The only way to avoid getting bluffed is to never fold, which makes us into the stereotypical losing player, the calling station.

Fortunately, he checks behind on the turn. The QHeart Suit on the river is not a perfect card, as it could have connected with several different hands in his range, such as ADiamond Suit QClub Suit or KSpade Suit QDiamond Suit. However, against most of his range this card does not change anything at all. If we had the best hand on the turn, we likely still have the best hand. And if we were beat, on the flop or turn, we are still beat. Betting this river creates little value, as we rarely expect to get called by a worse hand, and rarely expect to get a better hand to fold. Checking is clearly the best choice.

Now, our tough opponent bets this river. For the most part, he either hit the flop hard and has been trapping, turned the flush and was trapping, is value-betting a better jacks-up hand, or is bluffing at this river.

If he were a weak player, he would almost never be betting here with just a queen. Most weak players would be thrilled to have hit top pair, and would not be betting for value on such a board where straights, flushes, and full houses are possible. However, a strong player might correctly put me on just the hand I have, an underpair to the jacks, and bet a queen (or other two pair hand) for value.

As such, he does have a variety of value hands in his range, not just trips or better. Still, there are many potential bluffs in his range, and since he bet about half-pot, we are getting 3:1 on the call. It certainly seems like we should win here more than 25% of the time, so calling is the best choice. If this opponent were tight and never bluffs, or if you spotted a very reliable tell, only then would folding be a reasonable choice.

Have fun, and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.