Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Over the long haul, (how long is that, really?) eventually we’re all dealt the same cards.  If that is the case, then how do you separate the long-term winners from the long-term losers?  It’s all in the way we play them.

Some players are able to get value from hands with negative expected value.  For those of you who watched High Stakes Poker on GSN, you saw a couple of episodes where Sammy Farha basically took control of the table.  He played his opponents in such a way that the cards that he was dealt did not matter.  If you can read your opponents and predict their actions, you can make junk hands valuable.

Another way to get value from certain hands is to bluff with them.  I’ll always remember a “WPT Corner” segment when one pro said “If you’re not getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar every now and then, you’re not playing good poker.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Here are a couple of recent hands where bluffs, bluff inducement, and bluff calling have played key roles.

Hand #1:

I’m on the button with 75o.  Yes, it’s garbage.  However, when a pre-flop raise is called twice before it gets to me, its value rises ever so slightly.  I call the raise and four players see a 764 flop, two diamonds.  I have no diamond, but I’ve got top pair, open ender.  The pre-flop raiser bets half the pot and it’s folded to me.  I flat call.  The turn pairs the board with a 4 and again, the pre-flop raiser in early position bets about half the pot.  I flat call again.  The river brings the A of diamonds and the opponent checks and opens the door for me to bluff.  I do.  I go all in.  I’m hoping to represent the check-call, draw to a flush that just hit.

I got called by pocket tens - both black.  At first, I was a bit amazed that he called, but after discussing the hand further with Random101, I realized that I didn’t sell my bluff well enough.  Depending on the type of player my opponent read me for, the call made sense.  I played the hand as if I were drawing to a flush and then pushed when it hit.  Which, if seen from the other player’s perspective, is exactly the line to take if you’re going to bluff.  Re-thinking things, if I were truly on that draw, perhaps a raise on the turn or even the flop would have better sold my story.  A simple raise on either of those streets coupled with my all-in on the river would have made better sense in my opinion and potentially won me the hand.

Hand #2:

It’s the G-Vegas Big-Game™ and I’m sitting on the BB with pocket Queens.  After about 5 limpers come along for the ride, I bump it to $25 and get called (as I always do) by TheMark who’s on the button.  The flop is ten-high, all clubs.  He knows that I’ll check that flop if it hit me hard and since I don’t have a club in my hand, I still need to know where he is.  So I continuation bet $40 and he smooth calls.  The turn is an offsuit undercard.

Sometimes you can raise for information.  But sometimes you can check for information too.  I checked and TheMark fired out a $60 bet.  Just as in Hand #1, the EP player (me) checks to induce a potential bluff.  I know he doesn’t bet the flush there if he has it, so I can eliminate that holding.  I check call the $60 still thinking my hand is good.  It’s still vulnerable, but it’s still good – at least I think so.  The river pairs the ten and there is cause for concern.  I check and TheMark bets $90 into what is now a $275+ pot.  I have to call, for two reasons.  The first reason is that his holdings in that situation are wide enough that I can still beat some of his hands.  The ten pairing could have helped if he had a lower two-pair.  Also, my passive plays on the turn and river have opened the door to bluffing opportunities, and I know he’s the type of player that will take advantage of that.

I call, he mucks and I win.

Both of the above hands were bluffs based on position and board texture.  Granted, neither worked, but those are the types of plays that have to be made in order to be a long-term winning player.  In those hands, arguments can be made that the bluffs could have been executed better.  One can also argue that the winning hands should have in fact folded to the bluff.  It can go either way.  This is one of the more esoteric facets of poker and one that truly fascinates me.

But that’s where my game has been of late, focusing on bluffs, recognizing opportunities to execute them, and even more importantly, knowing when to call one down.  Hopefully I won’t get too enthralled with this part of the game and lose focus on the fundamentals.  It’s not too much fun to bluff all-in into the complete, stone cold, utter, dead-to-rights nuts.  And I’ve done that.

It hurts when the lid to the cookie jar slams against the top of your hand.

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