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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: How To Choose Your Bluffs

Miller Explains What Situations To Look Out For


Ed MillerMost players don’t bluff often enough. Part of the problem is that bluffing consistently requires a certain leap of faith that can be hard to muster. It can be especially hard to muster if you’ve been enduring a bad run.

But another part of the problem is that players don’t know which sort of hands to bluff with. It doesn’t help that the sort of hands you should bluff with on the river are different from the sort of hands you should bluff on the flop.

Your opponent bets and you are considering a bluff-raise. What type of hand should you choose?

On The River

On the river, you’re looking for two things: a lack of bluff-catching value and blockers.
A hand lacks bluff-catching value if you could call with it and still lose to a bluff. Top pair, for instance, has full bluff-catching value on most boards, because it would be rare that someone would try to bluff with a hand that beats top pair.

Bottom pair or ace-high, however, often have marginal bluff-catching value. Sometimes players will bluff with a medium-sized pair. If you call with one of these marginal hands, you could still lose even if you catch your opponent bluffing.

More important, however, is that your hand has blockers. It’s okay to bluff with a few hands that have bluff-catching value as long as they have premium blockers.

What are blockers?

Blockers are cards you hold that would be significant if your opponent were able to hold them. But, obviously, your opponent can’t hold the card if it’s in your hand.

When you contemplate a bluff-raise on the river, you want your opponent to hold one of two types of hands: bluffs or weak value hands.

Your best bluffing hands, therefore, will contain cards that maximize the chance your opponent has one of these two types of hands at the expense of the third type — strong and nut hands.

For example, say the board is JHeart Suit 8Spade Suit 2Spade Suit 10Diamond Suit 3Club Suit. Your opponent checks the flop, and you check it back. He bets the turn, and you call. He bets the river, and you want to bluff-raise.

If he’s value betting, he may have a straight such as Q-9 or 9-7. He may also have a set such as 8-8 or 10-10. Or he may just have a jack, like K-J.

If he’s bluffing, he may have a busted spade-flush draw. Or he may have overcards such as K-Q. He could also have a hand like 4-4 or just two random cards.

A card such as the KSpade Suit is a poor blocker in this scenario. No strong value hands contain this card. It appears only in bluffing hands and weak value hands. So if the KSpade Suit is in your hand, it suggests you have a poor bluffing hand. Because you hold the card, your opponent can’t have it. But you’d like your opponent to have it, since it’s a card that marks your opponent with a vulnerable hand.

The 9Club Suit, however, is a great blocker. Both Q-9 and 9-7 are made with this card. Furthermore, this card isn’t particularly likely to appear in weak value hands or bluffs. So if you hold this card, it increases the chance that your opponent has one of your target hands.

If you hold two nines — 9Club Suit 9Diamond Suit, for example — it’s likely you have a great bluffing hand. Because your cards block the straight so well, it significantly increases the chance that your opponent is betting a hand he might consider folding to a raise.

Note that 9-9 has some bluff-catching value. But hands like A-10, K-10, Q-J, and A-8 act just as well as bluff-catchers without the blockers. So you can bluff-catch with your hands that lack blockers, and bluff-raise with 9-9 — the hand with powerful blockers.

On The Flop

On the flop, you’re looking for something completely different. Blockers are still a factor. But much more important is equity. Because the pot isn’t lost yet if your flop bluff-raise gets called, you want a hand that can suck out.

But you don’t want just any hand that can suck out. You want a hand that has almost as much equity against your opponent’s betting range as it has against your opponent’s raise-calling range.

This is a tricky concept, so I’ll break it down. Your opponent bets one set of hands on the flop. He’s got strong hands and weak hands and strong draws and weak draws and total air. Any of these types of hands he might bet on the flop. So if the flop is JClub Suit 9Spade Suit 6Spade Suit, when your opponent bets, he could have 9-9, A-J, J-8, or 10-9, or two spades, or 7-5, or A-2, or 7-2.

Say you have A-K on this flop. Against your opponent’s betting range, you’re doing OK. Not great, mind you, but if you call the flop and end up at showdown, sometimes you’ll beat a hand like A-2 or 7-2 or a busted flush or straight draw, or you’ll outdraw a jack or nine.

Therefore, A-K has decent equity if you call with it.

If you raise it, however, then you have to play against your opponent’s raise-calling range. Now you’re up against 9-9 and A-J and two spades, but likely not 10-9, 7-5, A-2, or 7-2. A-K wins a much smaller percentage of the time against this stronger range.

Compare this to a hand like 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit on the JClub Suit 9Spade Suit 6Spade Suit flop. If you call the flop with 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit, your only legitimate chance to win a showdown is if you catch a spade.

But this is nearly equally true against the raising range. A flush beats 9-9 or A-J the same as it beats 7-2 and 10-9.

Therefore, a hand like 5Spade Suit 4Spade Suit has equity if your bluff-raise is called — and it doesn’t have much additional equity if you just call the flop rather than bluff. These two characteristics make it the sort of hand you want to bluff the flop with.

For flop bluffs, you’re looking for hands that go big or go home. These are the hands that gain the most value when you bluff with them.

I would not, therefore, bluff ASpade Suit KSpade Suit on a JClub Suit 9Spade Suit 6Spade Suit flop. It has two problems as a bluffing hand. First, it blocks hands I would otherwise hope my opponent has. When I hold the two best flush draw cards, it increases the chance my opponent has a set or two pair. Second, ASpade Suit KSpade Suit has too much value as just a call. It doesn’t just go big or go home. It goes big — or it goes top pair and wins that way. Or it wins a showdown with ace-high unimproved.

Final Thoughts

On the river, I want to bluff hands with blockers to the strongest hands. It helps if these hands have relatively little bluff-catching value. On the flop, I want to bluff hands with equity if called that wouldn’t have much more equity if I chose not to bluff with them. Go big or go home.

No one said this game was simple. ♠

Ed’s brand new book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top, is on sale now at Find Ed on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.