Turning Your Hand into a Bluff in Poker

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.

Make Every Poker Bet for a Reason

When you make a bet in poker 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.

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

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.

Before Turning Hand Into Bluff, Know Your Goal

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?

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!

More intermediate strategy articles from Dan Skolovy:

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MSC 2014-08-21 18:04:10

"In the first example, UTG 2 takes down $55 with a pocket pair and without the headaches of putting his hand at risk on 4th St. or the River."

Not when the other guy has a K. Just saying.

Sean Lind 2009-03-07 18:58:00

"Rainbow flops do not preclude the possibility of a flush, obviously, and if your opponent is suited he has a 1-8 chance of making a flush"

I'm not sure where you're getting 1-8 from, it's actually three times that.

here's the actual math for someone making a flush runner runner (meaning only one like suited card on the flop)

10/47 * 9/46 = %


0.212765 * 0.19565 = 0.416 (4%)

or you can do it this way.

1/4.7 * 1/5.1 = 1/24

So he's 4% or 1/24 to catch a flush. Since you'll be giving far worse than 24-1 pot odds, you should be wanting him to call any bet you make.

051R15 2009-03-07 16:49:00

Rainbow flops do not preclude the possibility of a flush, obviously, and if your opponent is suited he has a 1-8 chance of making a flush, 1-4 if he catches one on the turn. This HAS to be factored in when counting outs (simple as that).

Now, if the math is problematic for some reason, you can easily punch the odds of this pocket pair holding up into a poker calculator and report back with the results.

Likewise, If you define 'scared poker' as pushing all in when there's already a full boat possible on the flop, I have to wonder if most of your experience lies in real world cash games ...or playing with funny money on Full Tilt.

Five-handed, pocket aces will win 59 out of 100 times after that flop... nowhere near a two-outer, a four-outer or any other scenario based on fuzzy math that anyone on this thread has come up with, I'm sorry to say.

Here's my advice; start out playing limit. You WILL learn to count outs and calculate pot odds, because you WILL have your wired aces sucked out on half the time, because you CAN'T push people off their draws. That's the beauty of NL; pocket aces will make you money (as long as you don't play them like your stuck at a 2/4 table).

Sean Lind 2009-03-06 17:31:00

King of SPADES
King of CLUBS
nine of HEARTS

That's known as a rainbow flop, by definition there is no flush draw on here.

If you're not willing to let a draw chase against you (against their odds), you're playing scared poker. Simple as that.

As for slow playing aces, read this article:
<a href="http://www.pokerlistings.com/strategy/limit-holdem/limit-myths-part-1-pocket-aces">All about Aces</a>

051R15 2009-03-06 02:12:00

He'd have a gutshot and a flush draw, and no, draws do not count as any kind of hand... but it's not four outs anymore than it is two.

Maybe an article on Counting Outs 101 is in order, especially if giving your opponent free cards is going to be your stategy....

To answer the question, hell no I don't want someone with a straight draw and a flush draw sucking out on me. Even two pair beats me!

Honestly, the only time I see people slow playing pocket pairs is at the .50/1 tables... and they don't last long (shrug).

Sean Lind 2009-03-05 17:47:00

If he has 10hJh then he has a gutshot, not exactly air or a raggedy pair. Even if he has that, you want him drawing at his 4 outs, do you not?

051R15 2009-03-05 15:47:00

...Two outs?

Say he's got 10h Jh...

Zyg0tic 2009-03-03 19:08:00

If he has a raggedy pay, or air, he has a maximum of 2 outs. Seems like a great reason to give him more cards to me. Let them bluff at the pot, or catch a pair.

051R15 2009-03-02 00:46:00

In the first example, UTG+2 takes down $55 with a pocket pair and without the headaches of putting his hand at risk on 4th St. or the River.

Given the texture of the board, it may well be a semi-bluff but it's a damn good one; The button misses an easy read on AA's, overbets the pot and donks off $70.

I can't imagine any other sensible play for UTG+2 than to take the pot while he's got it. Either the button's got a raggedy pair or he's got air. Why let him have another two cards?


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