Poker Strategy with Greg Raymer: Inducing a bluff with only Ace High
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When I do live workshops, we spend the first three hours doing a class, take a lunch break, and then spend the afternoon doing live hands-on workshops. In these, I deal with students, trying to play their best game. At the end of the hand, they show their cards and I provide feedback and critiques.
In 2019 I published FossilMan Tournament Winning Strategies, a 42-chapter book that covers all the basic concepts behind being a winning tournament player, as well as many of the more advanced strategies. This book could be compared to the lecture portion of my seminars. However, I’ve been working on a second book and thought it should look more like Live Hand Labs.
For this book, I’m going to analyze several dozen hands I’ve played, analyzing each decision along the way. While it’s not finished yet, I thought it would be fun to provide excerpts of some of those hands here.
Here’s a fun hand from late day 1b of mgm extension National Harbor Potomac Poker Open main event, a $3,000 buy-in tournament.
I was in the big blind with 120,000, blinds of 1,500-3,000 with a big blind ante of 3,000, holding the dramatic A 4. He folded to the button, a well-known player who is very tough, very deceptive, extremely loose-aggressive and had a covering stack of 175,000.
He raised to 6,500 and I was the only caller. We got an interesting flop of queens 3 3which I checked, and then called his bet of 4,000.
I double checked after seeing the 2 on the turn, and once again called his bet, even though he bet up to 14,500.
The river again paired the board and brought a possible flush with the 2. I checked once more and he bet again after thinking for a while, this time reducing to 8,500.
I quickly called and he said, “You’re good.” I turned my hand and pulled the vase down.
This is a hand with a lot more to do than meets the eye on the surface. This hand is about inducing bluffs and ignoring any feelings of fear you may have.
My first decision is what to do with the trivial hand of A-4 offsuit facing a raise? If the raise came from a tight player, or someone in early position, it’s an easy fold.
Even if you’re getting great money to call here, 3,500 to win a 14,000 pot, or 4:1 pot odds, don’t be fooled. This hand reeks of reverse implied odds. By that I mean this hand usually loses more chips than it wins in post-flop action. Therefore, even though 4:1 is great money against an opponent, this hand loses too much to make a smart call.
However, here we are faced with a raise from the player in late position, who is known to be loose-aggressive. His range can be as wide as any two cards. Against such a weak range, folding would be a huge mistake.
Instead of calling, why not three-bet? This option has a lot going for it and I would recommend this pick against some players. Particularly against someone who will make the first raise with a wide range, but tend to fold a lot when you re-raise. Here, a standard raise from me would be around 20,000.
The problem is that my hand, while very strong in a sense, is also quite weak. If I don’t flop an ace, pretty much every other flop I miss my hand. Even if I pair fours, it will usually be a bottom pair and it will be hard to know if it’s the best hand. Therefore, if this tough opponent doesn’t fold preflop, then I’ll have to guess a lot after the flop. Since I didn’t expect this specific opponent to overfold, I chose to call.
The flop practically misses my hand. The only plus is that I have the 4, for a weak backdoor flush draw. However, it is a paired board. This means that almost all hands have missed this flop. So, if my A-4 was the best hand preflop, it’s often still the best hand. Since I’m in good or bad shape, I chose to check and call. Especially since he made a small c-bet, folding would have been a big mistake.
The only question is, would it have been better to check-raise? Again, the answer to this question is reached by answering another question first. Will this opponent fold most of the time when he is weak? If he folds most of these hands, then yes, check-raise. If he were to fold some relatively strong hands that missed this flop, hands like AJ, A-10, small pairs, then absolutely, check-raising is the better decision. In my case, this opponent is so deceptive, he might three-bet all-in, even with his worst hands, expecting me to fold often enough for such a bluff to be profitable.
The turn is where this hand gets really interesting. After I check again, he bets again, as expected. Only this time his bet is higher. At this point, he’s either betting more to make his bluff more likely to work, or he has a very strong hand and thinks I’m going to pay him.
As such, there is no advantage to the check-raise. Preflop and on the flop, a check-raise would not only cause many worse hands to fold and deny them their equity, but it would also cause at least some better hands to fold. At this point, with this larger bet, his range is probably biased towards strong hands that won’t fold or weak hands that he’s unlikely to catch. Is the only real decision to call again or give up and fold?
A critical aspect of this decision, and all decisions in poker, is thinking ahead. What I mean by that is not just thinking about calling this bet, but also what am I going to do on the river? Will I bet certain cards, for value or as a bluff? Will I check-call with another river bet, and how much does this depend on the river card and bet size? It’s one of the most common mistakes I see in all poker games, players thinking about the current decision, but not considering the possibilities of what will happen next.
When I chose to call this turn bet, I had decided at that point that I would probably call most of the river bets, even though there were a few river cards that might change my mind. More importantly, if the river bet is huge, I might even change my mind. Luckily, he figured his small river bet of 8,500 would look stronger than a big bet.
I think he was surprised that I called so quickly, but since I had already made that decision when I called on the turn, I saw no need to change my mind about this bet size. ♠
Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles and has earned more than $7 million. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon and other resellers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg, tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.