“If you suspect your opponent is bluffing more than one-third of the time [on the river], you should call every time. If you think your opponent is bluffing less than one-third of the time, you should fold every time.” —Ed Miller, The Course
This breakeven percentage value of one-third that Miller cites for villain bluffing frequency derives from an assumption that the villain has made a full pot-size bet into you on the river. For example, let’s say you flopped a set, but now the board has four-flushed on the river. Unfortunately, you don’t have the flush, so you’re either way ahead or way behind (WAWB). The villain’s bet is representative of a strong made flush–or he’s bluffing. You’ve seen the villain play mostly straightforwardly for the past few hours at the table, but you’ve also seen him make a few bluffs, too. So, should you call?
Well, like most things in poker, it depends. In this case, it depends on how likely you think it is your opponent is bluffing in this situation. If it’s greater than a third of the time, you should call. If it’s less, you should fold.
So this means you should almost always fold. Let me explain…
You’re in a $5/$10 NL full-ring 9-handed cash game. Everyone has about $1000 stacks. You raise UTG with Js-Jh. It is folded to an expert player in the SB, who calls. The BB folds, and you see a flop heads up, which is: 2s-2c-Td. The SB leads for $80. You raise to $250, and the SB re-raises you to $650. Your image is tight-aggressive, very tight in EP, and you rarely bluff. What should you do?
Call and fold the turn if he bets again
Call and get all-in on the turn if no overcard hits
Call and get all-in on the turn regardless of the turn card
... it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same pair of deuces
Here are two hands in which I was dealt an identical pair of ducks in the span of 10 minutes: 2♥-2♦. Both hands took place in a tough full-ring, $100NLHE online cash game. Would you play these two hands the same way I did?
Hand #1: I have a pair of deuces in the small blind and get open-raised 3xbb by a tricky and aggressive player in late position. He is purposely playing a short-stack of 30bb. He opens for 3x the big blind. The action folds to me. I muck.
Hand #2: I have a pair of deuces in the CO seat facing a 3xbb raise by a TAg UTG player with a full 100bb stack. I call.
What? Deuces are deuces, right? And the first villain in middle position has a much wider (read: worse) hand range than the second villain in EP, right? Don’t I have the actions in these two hands backward? Nope. Let me explain…
I had pot odds, is also often heard at the poker table when a donk makes a bad call. Most of them wouldn’t know pot odds from a tuna fish sandwich.” —Dave “Memphis Mojo” Smith
...and why each of them is actually a good thing. Seriously.
In this session of Zone poker, I make a bad bet on the river when the river trips the board with three 3’s. This of course causes my jet-lagged brain to tangent off on the topic of losing in poker.
There are three basic ways to lose a hand of poker. First, you can suffer a bad beat (and I explain why this is actually a really good thing). Second, you can run into a cooler (which is a neutral just-part-of-poker thing). Finally, you can make a mistake or bad decision, and get your money in with the worst of it (negative EV). This third way of losing can actually be a good thing, as it can lead you to recognize your mistake and plugging that particular leak for future hands to be played.
Question: You and a friend are flipping a coin. It comes up heads 4 times in a row. You flip it again. Neither one of you is cheating and the coin is fair. If you were to gamble on the outcome of the 5th flip, what would you do?
Question: You’re in a $5/$10 NL 6-handed cash game. It has folded around to the cutoff, who is a weak player. He has a $400 stack and raises to $40. You have him covered, and you re-raise from the button to $100. You hold Ac-Ah. He calls. The flop comes out Kd-6s-4s. He bets $100. What should you do?
Back in Issue #40 of the Exceptional Poker Newsletter, I posted a short article on why “betting to protect” against draws is not smart poker. Wow, I struck a nerve. I’ve subsequently received a half dozen emails and questions on the subject. Most were polite and respectful, but some weren’t. Here’s an example:
“…You obviously don’t understand the reasons to bet in texas hold-em. When you have top pair hand and you’re [sic] opponent has a straight draw that can beat yours you have to bet to protect your hand against the straight. Read any book on poker and it will tell you this is why you need to bet. I don’t think you understand poker as good as you think you do if you tell us not to bet to protect against draws. I am going to unsubscribe from you’re [sic] newsletter because of this bad advice…”
Uh, I’m sorry you’re leaving the list, but I respectfully disagree with your statement about betting to protect. You should never bet in poker to “protect” your hand, just as you should never bet in poker to gather information about your opponents’ hands. These two things (protection and information) are nice side benefits of betting, but they should never be the primary reason you make a bet or raise. The only* two reasons to bet are: a) for value (i.e., you think you can get a worse hand to call) or, b) as a bluff (i.e., you think you can get a better hand to fold). Sometimes we bet as a middle-ground combination of these two things (e.g., semi-bluff), but we never, ever, ever should bet for the reason “protecting” our hand. Doing so is dumb poker, and it’s costing you money. Let me explain why this is so with some escalating hand examples:
Using Probabilities and Expected Value To Make Good Poker Decisions Over and Over
You might have heard the admonition on an old TV western. Or perhaps it was spoken by your Aunt Mildred at a kitchen table penny-ante game: Never draw to an inside straight, sonny-boy. We are told that gut-shot straights are bad news. They’re long-shot draws, and only suckers chase long-shots, right? Wrong. Let me explain.