Turning Your Hand into a Bluff

Jamie Gold

The other day I was playing in a $1/$2 game at the local casino when this hand came up.

The UTG player raises to $15. UTG+1 folds, UTG+2 calls; it's folded to the cut-off who calls, as does the button.

The small blind folds and the big blind calls. The flop comes K K 9. Everyone checks to the button, who bets $55. It is folded to UTG+2, who shoves all-in.

Everyone folds and he proudly turns over pocket aces. Successfully trapped the field, right?

Wrong. What he did was he turned his pocket aces into a bluff. No worse hand will ever call the check-raise and no better hand is ever going to fold. So effectively his AA is just as good as say five-high.

When you make a bet, you want to do it for a reason.

What reason would our hapless hero have to shove all-in? It wouldn't be a value bet, because he's not very likely to get called by any worse hands.

So that makes it a bluff, meaning he wants to make a better hand fold. Unfortunately for him, there are no better hands, except for triple kings or a full house. None of these is ever going to fold.

Hence, he turns his hand with decent showdown value into a bluff since the only way he can win is by having his opponent fold.

This is a counterintuitive way to play poker. If you're letting David Sklansky's fundamental theory of poker guide you at the felt, you should be playing your hand the exact same way you would if you knew your opponent's hole cards.

When you think about that in light of the pocket aces hand, would you:

a) Blow everyone out of the hand that didn't contain a king?


b) Check-shove into someone who you knew had a king or a full house?

No; of course you wouldn't. So don't go doing the same thing now just because you don't know your opponent's cards.

Effectively it boils down to the same outcome. You're still going to only win the pot by having everyone fold, and those times you are called you're going to be waaaay behind in a big pot.

To ensure you're not turning your hand into a bluff, you need to be fully cognizant of what it is you're trying to achieve. This isn't always as obvious as check-shoving AA on a KKx board.

Let's look at another example.

You're playing $1/$2 NL, effective stacks $200. Game is tight-aggressive, six-max online. You have A K.

You raise to $9 from under the gun. It's folded to the small blind, who calls. (The small blind plays a fairly standard TAG game. He's a winner in the game and you have never seen him do anything too spazzy.)

The big blind folds. The flop comes A 6 7. Your opponent checks and you bet $15; your opponent flat-calls. The turn is T.

Your opponent now bets $45.

Should you raise? I would argue no. If you raise, what are you hoping to accomplish?

Jamie Gold
What, me turn my hand into a bluff??

Would it be a raise for value? A tight, solid player is very rarely going to be calling with a worse hand in this spot. Thus if you were to raise it would be to make a better hand fold.

However, there are very few better hands outs there. 6-7 is one, as well as 8-9, and A-T and 66, 77, TT. Of these, not one is going to fold to your turn raise. Meaning if you raise the turn, your hand becomes a bluff.

Whether you call or not is up to you and is situation-dependent. However, here raising is counterproductive.

When you're playing No-Limit Hold'em, you must realize turning a hand with good showdown value into a complete bluff is a grievous error that must be avoided at all costs.

Luckily for you, it is easy to avoid.

If you ask yourself, "Am I raising for value or to get a better hand to fold?" before you act, you'll usually be able to avoid these troublesome situations altogether!

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