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Pure Bluffs: Floating and Probe Bets
There are two basic types of bluffs: the semi-bluff - essentially, betting with some outs, and the pure bluff - betting with almost no outs, but rather playing the situation and your read on the opposition.
Of course, there are variations of each of these. Some are fairly routine and some far more subtle. The options available to you, as well as the techniques you can employ, will vary depending on whether you have position and on the number of opponents involved in the pot.
The amount of pressure you can apply with a bluff (of either variety) also depends, to a certain extent, on your position. Bluffs made in position tend to be more intimidating than their counterparts because your opponent knows he'll have to act first on the next street as well.
In today's article, we'll take a closer look at two examples of a pure bluff.
For most poker players, nothing feels better than executing a pure bluff - reading an opponent correctly, having the courage to act on that read and then dragging the pot as your opponent lays down his hand.
In today's game, the most common example of a pure bluff is the increasingly popular "float" maneuver. Essentially, "floating" involves calling your opponent with nothing, with the intention of taking the pot away from him if he shows weakness on a later street. Typically, this move is attempted when you have position against a single opponent who has raised pre-flop.
After raising pre-flop, most players make a standard continuation bet on the flop - whether they've improved their hand or not. However, comparatively few players are willing (or capable) of firing a second bullet (on the turn) without a real hand. Against opponents such as these, floating the flop can be very profitable.
To execute this move, simply call the continuation bet on the flop (independent of the strength of your hand - this is a pure bluff, remember!) and wait for your opponent to act on the turn.
The typical player tends to abandon the pot (checking and folding to a bet) if they've missed the flop, made a continuation bet and been called. They simply don't fire a second bullet often enough. This weakness is exploitable. Float the flop; then simply bet the turn if your opponent checks and fold (if you haven't got a hand) if he bets.
Clearly, as the above betting pattern illustrates, position is an important component of the typical float play. The basic idea is to force your opponent to reveal the true strength of his hand on the turn and then act accordingly based on this information. This is easier to do when you have position.
Of course, you can float from out of position too, but it's far less common and somewhat riskier to do so. When you're out of position, a typical float play involves calling the pre-flop raise, check-calling the flop, then either leading out on the turn or attempting a check-raise bluff.
Attempting a check-raise bluff on the turn requires a much larger commitment (in terms of chips) and is consequently a significantly riskier maneuver. Very few players have the ability to attempt this type of bluff.
Another good example of a pure bluff is the probe bet. It's an underutilized tool in most players' repertoires. A probe bet is a bet by a player out of position, usually by the first player to act after the flop. Because, as a general rule, most flops miss most hands, probe bets are a means by which the player acting first (or the first player to bet in a three- or four-way pot) can capitalize on this fact and attempt to steal the pot.
Essentially, the basic concept behind the probe bet is to simply take a stab at the pot when you think the flop may have missed your opponents. This is done by making a small bet - usually around a quarter or a third the size of the pot. If you bet only a small percentage of the size of the pot, your probe bet doesn't have to be successful very often in order to show a profit.
A probe bet can be used in both raised and unraised pots and is a common tournament technique in both multi-tables and sit-and-gos. However, in cash games, you'll often need to bet slightly more - perhaps around half to two-thirds of the pot - in order to successfully steal the pot.
The key to profitably wielding the probe bet is to use it in the right situations. Knowing when a flop has likely missed an opponent is difficult, but careful observation can give some insights into the types of hands they're likely to raise (or limp) with. Often, flops with either all low cards or low cards and an ace are good opportunities to attempt a probe bluff.
In the next article in this series, we'll take a closer look at some other common bluffs.