Good and bad river cards to bluff

Good and bad river cards to bluff

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ben Jackson's hand analysis

We come across a lot of spots on the river where we’ve either missed a draw or we’re totally air-balling and have to decide whether to bluff or check and give up. I think a lot of players, having bet the flop and turn, feel like they have to bet it, as they “can’t check back 8-high”. But I think that’s wrong. If your opponent is likely to call, based on the range of hands he should have, then you just have to give up and wait till you’ve got it. Too many people think that if they have got a lot of money invested in the pot, then they should to try to protect it, rather than thinking through the hand. Instead, they let the money or their egos get involved.

Conversely, there are a lot of spots on the river which can be good cards to bluff against your opponent’s range, and knowing the difference between the two is a massively profitable situation to be in. I’ve two examples underneath, one which I thought was a good bluff spot and one where I didn’t and decided to give up.

My first hand was in a £5-£5 hold’em cash game at Genting’s Star City Casino in Birmingham. There’s a straddle for £10 and a player in middle position limps. I raise to £35 with 10DJD – basically the nuts. Everyone folds and the limper calls.

The flop comes A-Q-7 with two spades. He checks and I bet £40. He calls and the turn comes an off-suit five. Again, he checks. Now I decide that, if I check back here, he will call any river bet because of the type of player he is, but if I bet the turn and the river, I’m pretty confident he will fold a one-pair hand. So I decide to bet £90, expecting him to call reluctantly and then fold most rivers. He does call and the river comes another ace. He checks.

I now decide that this is the worst river card to bluff because he either has a weak ace or a queen, which I think he calls me with anyway, so I decide to give up and check. He slams his K-Q down like it’s the nuts, so I’m pretty confident he was calling any river bet and was happy I decided to check back.

I could have gone pot / double-pot / bet-on-river to get him to fold all queens, and maybe some weak aces, but that’s a super-high-variance play and, in a game like this, high variance was not needed – but in different situations, against different players, that can be a good play (although preferably against someone over the age of 40).

The second hand I played was in the same game. A fairly straightforward player opens to £15, I call on the button with AD5Dand both blinds call. The flop comes A-J-9 with 2 clubs and one diamond. Both blinds check and the original raiser bets £25. Although I’ve hit top pair, I’m not in love with my hand as my opponent is fairly A-B-C. He can have bigger aces, but he would also bet K-K, Q-Q, most J-X hands and also club draws. I decide to call as it’s a fairly small bet and I also have backdoor diamonds and can re-evaluate on later streets as I have position.

Both blinds fold and the turn comes the 8D, giving me the backdoor nut-flush draw. He now bets £50, and I’m pretty sure I’m losing at this point but there is an off chance he’s barreling draws and possibly still could be betting K-K/Q-Q to check the river.

I’ve also hit backdoor diamonds which is very disguised if it comes, and, if he has a strong made-hand, he’ll call a big river bet if I hit. If I don’t hit diamonds I will probably fold, but I can now get a big river bet out there if one comes.

The river comes the 10C, putting the flopped flush draw out there and also four to a straight. He checks and now I think at best he has a set, as he bets any queen or flush here and can’t have any seven in his range because he’s an A-B-C player who wouldn’t barrel with any seven in his hand.

So it’s, at best, a set, a two-pair hand and then maybe A-K. Although I have top pair and a bit of showdown value, I think I have to bet because, if I’m not good, he shouldn’t really be calling with any better hand he can have in his range. I bet £140 and he tanks for ages and decides to call with A-8 – disappointing, because I got his hand range spot on. However, I’d still make the same bet in the same situation as, long-term, it will be profitable.

These two hands are completely different situations: one a good spot to bluff; the other not, and yet a lot of players still tend to bet in both spots when it’s far more profitable to figure out the correct situations, rather than betting automatically.

Sometimes, in order to decide whether the river is a good spot to bluff or not, you need to figure out if your opponent will understand that it’s a good card for your range and is able to make a disciplined fold. If he’s a donkey who just looks at his own hand and thinks, “I have two pair, how can I fold?” then, even though it might be a good bluff card, it’s not a good bluffing spot because you’re going to get called too often. The key is to spot good bluffing cards and then know whether your opponent is good enough to fold. If the answer to both questions is yes, then go crazy!

Tags: Ben, Jackson, hand analysis