“Are you always so blatant?” a poker buddy, Martin, asks me. I smiled. After reading my book (Poker Plays You Can Use), he knows my game pretty well. We get together every trip I take to Vegas and have lots of hand review sessions. Since I live in Boston, it was the first time we had ever gotten a chance to actually play at the same table.
He was asking because against certain Villains, I was constantly taking transparent lines. Every time a perfect bluffing spot came up, I would bluff. Is it bad to be transparent like this? I mean Martin knew I was bluffing — every time. I don’t think this is bad at all. I am not trying to beat Martin, I am trying to beat the other people with cards in that hand. Even if every other player at the table can see what I am doing, their votes don’t count because they don’t have cards anymore.
I am talking about story-telling bluffs. Hands where the Villain folds and says “I am not paying off your set,” or whatever boogeyman I am representing. I am taking advantage of two things: Villain’s ability to read hands and Villain’s memories of how most people would play the hand I am representing.
For instance when I call a raise from a tight player to defend the big blind and the flop comes:
7♥ 7♣ 4♦
I check/min-raise the flop then bet turn and river, my represented trip Sevens never gets to showdown. Villain feels very clever for outplaying me in that hand by having the discipline to lay down his overpair. Martin knew I would never play a flopped Seven that way against this Villain. Why not? Because he would never pay me off if I play it like that. A really good player would know I am capable of three barrel bluffing in this spot and might look me up or raise me. A really bad player would just call me down because he likes to call. It is the mediocre regular that is vulnerable to this play, and that is why I made it against him but not against Martin or a calling station
Another example: When I am on the button after calling a pre-flop raise and four players check to me on a board of
J♣ J♠ 2♥
I bet half pot on the flop and get one caller. I then bet the same amount on the turn. When I make a pot sized bet on the river, I never get my represented trip Jacks to showdown. Lots of people will try and milk other players with small bets on the flop and turn then bet big on the end hoping to get paid off. A mediocre player knows this and might call the two small bets but will release often enough that the line works very well against them.
All the while Martin is watching the shenanigans in this hand and is thinking the Villain just needs to raise me and win a monster on the River. The good thing is Villain does not think like this. These exploitative, transparent bluffs work very well because they are so easy to read.
What else do these bluffs tell you? These lines work very well as bluffs because they emulate the way bad players try to get tricky with big hands. It takes a big hand for many bad players to confidently bet big and check-raise like I did here. If these lines rarely get paid off for big money when you actually hold the big hand there has to be a better value line to take. Bad players like to get tricky in these spots, but the trickiest thing to do is just bet it out.
Check out the follow-up to Poker Plays You Can Use – all new content in Volume 2!