Friday, 3 August 2012

By Ben Jackson
In general, if I have a hand that is just a bluff-catcher, I try to keep the pot as small as possible by checking back on either the flop or turn to bluff-catch the river. So the action usually goes bet-check-call or check-call-call, and most the time you are in a spot where you beat no value hands so you need to work out whether your opponent is bluffing or not on the river. There are two hands I recently played which are interesting and illustrate the principle.

The first hand happened in a 1/2 cash game in Star City Genting Casino. There is a £4 straddle and an aggressive, good, thinking player opens to £12 in mid-position. It’s folded to me and I 3-bet to £30 with A-6.

Everyone else folds and the good player flats. We are both about £1k deep.
The flop comes J-Q-7 rainbow. He checks and I decide to check behind. The reason I check here is because I feel, on a flop like this, he is very rarely check-folding as the hands he flats 3-bets with generally hit some part of it – all the way from gutshots to sets – and he is the type of player who can check-raise me, knowing he can rep a lot more than me on this board.

Also, it makes him think I have some showdown value, so he is less likely to start barreling me with only two streets of betting left. So, if he has any small pair, or hands like 10-8s, A-10 and anything similar, he’s most likely going to give up on the turn because he doesn’t expect me to fold, whereas if I bet the flop he can check-raise, especially if he thinks I’m just C-betting. Even if I have K-K/A-A/A-Q, he knows he can get me off it by the river.

The turn comes a six, which now gives me bottom pair and a little bit of showdown value. He checks again and, because I now have a pair, I decide to check and try get to showdown.

The river comes another six, which is perfect for me as it’s very much disguised. He now bets £77, just over the pot. I’ve played with this player a lot and I know he can pot value-bet hands like A-J/J-K and all queens, hoping to get a light call from me, so I’m defiantly going to raise. I decide to make it £190. He tanks for a little while and makes it £540.

Now I don’t like it, as, in my opinion, he raises no worse hands for value. I think even if he has a hand like 6-8s he would just flat the river instead of re-raising. It was a very interesting spot for me as he’s only repping hands like 7-7, 6-7 and maybe J-J or Q-Q and he knows I know this. Ultimately I decide I could only beat a bluff and figured he couldn’t be bluffing here, as if he has a hand he’s betting for value on the river he would have just flatted the re-raise. Also, he very rarely thinks I’m bluffing as I’ve checked back both the flop and the turn and then gone nuts on the river. He has to put me on a value hand when I raise the river and, if that’s the case, he can’t expect me to fold. What value hands would I raise fold? I opted to fold and would love to hear readers’ thoughts on this.

The second hand also occurred in a £1/£2 game. There’s no straddle this time and I’m on the button. Two people limp and I also decide to limp with 9-7o. The SB flats, the BB checks and the flop comes 2-6-7. Now the SB leads for £6. He’s a good player, plays aggressively in a lot of small pots but rarely gets alot in without a big hand.

We play together every day so we have a lot of history and respect one another. I don’t think he would lead with a one-pair hand unless it’s bottom pair. I thought he was leading with hands that aren’t good enough to check-call, so hands like 9-10, A-2 and then random over cards. So he leads for £6 and the BB and first limper both call, so I decide to also call with my top pair and nine kicker. I call because there is no value in raising and if I get reraised I would most likely fold.

The turn comes a 9h, putting up two hearts which gives me top two pair. So I’m happy now, and if my read was right on the flop he should either give up now with bottom pair (unless its 9-2) or it will be a good card for his hand, as he could have hands like 9-10/8-9 (and, yes, possibly 10-8 but that is the only hand I lose to). He bets £12 into £34, which is very small. Both players call and it's on me. I decide to raise to £46, obviously hoping that he flats so I can then bet the river for value and get paid by a lot of worse hands.

He now makes it £112. The other two players fold and it’s on me. I don’t like it as I expected him to flat almost all the time unless he has 10-8, even with 8-5, and certainly with all two-pair and set hands. So he’s repping 10-8 and 10-8 only. But this player is very creative and can easily raise one-pair hands with flush draws, as he doesn’t want to go call-call with maybe second pair, and also because he doesn’t want to flat OOP and not know whether to lead or check river. This way, if he hits his flush he can raise and I’m going to fold some of the time, and if not he can bet river if he gets there. I think, however, if he misses he will give up a lot of the time as he can’t expect me to fold much to him because of the history we’ve had and also because I’m repping a lot of strength versus three other opponents.

I decide to flat and the river comes an off-suit eight. So the board is 2-6-7-9-8. He now bets £160 into about £240-ish. My thinking is that he should know that this board hits my range a lot so he can comfortably have 10-8 now and is hoping I have maybe 5-8 or even a hand I was semi-bluffing the turn with that has a five. I didn’t think he would bluff this river as he should know I now have two-pair or a straight and can also still have 10-8. I don’t think he value-bets any worse hand on that river as any other two-pair and probably sets is just going to hope for a check, check, so as I didn’t think he was bluffing and defiantly not value-betting worse, I decided to fold. He shows me J-9. We talked about the hand afterwards and he said he put me on either 9-7 or 9-6, which turned two pair and was giving up on the river until the eight came, which he thought was a great card to bluff at and reduced the chance of me having 10-8 or 8-5.

So, rather than going into automatic check-call mode on the river with these types of hands, you need to work back through the hand to see if your opponent can be bluffing. It might be that a fold is the smarter play.

Tags: strategy, Ben Jackson