The triple barrel bluff is one of the most feared moves in poker. They’re feared by players that face them, and they’re feared by many players who are too intimidated or uninformed to make them. On this week’s podcast, Mike Gano breaks down the myriad strategic concepts that come together to make emptying the clip on the river a profitable move. Listen up and you’ll know when and how players are triple barrel bluffing to their advantage.

Featuring: Shaw & Gano

So, for our ABC/TAG type players that are listening, the idea of a triple-barrel bluff might be horrifying. But in your ‘Empty the Clip’ PRO video, you very clearly illustrate spots where triple-barreling is profitable. What can you say to ease the fears of nittier players that this is not blind aggression, but rather very calculated? Or to put it more simply, why should we be triple-barrel bluffing?

As poker players, we should always be searching for the most profitable option, and that’s sometimes to triple barrel. There is also other profitable ways like c-bet bluffing, double barrel bluffing when we pick up equity or scare cards. There are lots of opportunities out there to triple barrel bluff. As far as easing the fear of nittier players, you really want to focus on your EV, because if you are constantly hunting for ways to increase your EV, that will eventually lead you down the path of looking for triple barrel spots. If you are nervous about doing it, just change hands for a moment and think about how it feels if your opponent triple barrels you. Seeing from villain’s perspective, it puts a lot of pressure on you. When that huge river bet comes and you can’t help but think that he has to have the nuts this time, because why would he make such a big confident bet –- realize in that moment that you can also be applying that same pressure.

What are some of the skills and strategies people need to know in order to execute a successful triple-barrel bluff?

First off you should profile your opponent. A bad move would be to triple barrel bluff against a calling station. In order to know that they are a calling station if playing live, you should have the skill set to read your opponent. If you are playing online, it would be good to know the HUD stats, knowing all of this information would save you a lot of money in the long run. One of the more costly things to do is to try and bluff guys that are non-believers. Refining you triple barrel bluffing would be to start taking interest in the mathematics part of it. A basic example: If you are betting on the river and decided to make a pot size bet, then you are risking one to win one, so as long as he folds more than 50% of the time, your bluff will be successful. Working backward, you can estimate that your opponent he will be calling within a certain range and frequency, then setting your river bet size that the EV equation overall will be a positive play. From the mathematical standpoint if you want to try it out, save your hands and go over them later. You can also create drills, where you have 10 hands, and for each hand you are solving what fold equity you need on the river in order for it to be a +EV or what bet sizing you should use given the range of your opponent. By doing some of these examples you will be refining your triple barrel bluff skills and enjoy faster execution at the tables.

It seems like triple-barreling is very dependent on villain’s skill level. Can you talk about the difference in applying a triple barrel bluff to a fish versus a skilled reg?

You will probably be triple barrel bluffing more against regulars than fish. Fish have such a wide range, on dry boards they will be folding a lot on the flop, but when they have called flop and turn (unless there is a draw possibility) they will probably go all the way. Solid regulars will be folding a certain % of their range on every street. Or if you are on the river wondering if you should bluff this hand and he is a solid regular (all things being equal) then go for it. If he is more of a recreational player then maybe you should not, because the regulars will be folding more than the fish.

There are definitely profitable situations where you should be triple barrel bluff the fish, usually this is where you are betting the flop and turn with equity when you have got some good draws. The possibility that you will hit your draw combined with the fact that your opponent might fold is enough for you to determine for example betting the turn again is +EV. But let’s say your opponent (fish) calls and you miss your draw, but it’s still possible that he might have been on a draw as well, then you might consider triple barrel bluffing. A more refined look at the same situation would be to bet smaller on the river (after betting the flop and turn) sometimes it’s a physiological thing for your opponent (fish), thinking that you only want to rope them in. Another example is when the board gets really scary, fish are not necessarily adapted at reading ranges, for instance a third 2 hits the board, it doesn’t fall into his or really your range, but representing the 2 by making a huge bet would not be a bad idea at all. Or if two overcards fall on the turn and on the river (two aces, for example)… even though its less likely that you have an ace now, your opponent will only be seeing two over cards and think the worst most probably. So, playing the board and representing the very obvious and simplistic thing to a fish sometimes by making a really big bet when those opportunities arise.

Fold equity is a huge factor in bluffing, and with three barrels, I imagine you’re thinking about it on every street. Can you speak to how you use fold equity to determine when bluffing is profitable?

Fold equity means the percentage of time someone is folding, if they are folding half the time they have a 50% fold equity. Flop and turn decisions become more complicated because in addition to fold equity there is the equity that your hand improves to the best hand, these two factors combine in making your decision. On the river, you have the best hand or you don’t. It’s then up to you to calculate how many hands can call you and how many will fold, if there are 10 hands that will call and 10 hands that will fold you have 50% fold equity. Ideally, you would have been working through your opponents hand range according to the action from pre-flop, flop and turn as well as the position on the table and the reads you have on that player. Then it’s a matter of making a certain bet size to represent the hands you are supposedly holding that represents his range, how many of those combos will call and how many of those combos will fold . That’s when you can choose the appropriate betting size, to know mathematically speaking that your bluff will be profitable. It may be difficult to do it on the fly at first, you don’t have to work it out from scratch every time. What you can do is have a few standard sizes, you know the fold equity you need for each of those bet sizes.

To recap, you have got your standard bet sizes, you know the fold equity you need, you do your math on his range to calculate the fold equity you have, reference it back your bet sizes and make the play.

In your PRO video, most of your triple-barrel spots start when you are in position and are the pre-flop aggressor. How important is it to be in position and be the pre-flop aggressor when you triple-barrel? Can you do it out of position, or without being the pre-flop aggressor?

You are more often triple-barreling for value than you are doing it to bluff, which will make you tough to play against. You will be tripling-barreling more across the board if your range is stronger than your opponents range. For example single raised pots, you opened and a player calls you in position, his range (assuming he is a regular) is presumably going to be fairly strong, referring more to 6-max than 4-ring games. In this particular situation where your opponent is in position and you are out of position, you are not going to be doing as much triple-barreling. If you open in middle position and he calls from the big blind, where players have a bit wider ranges, you are then in position and it makes a lot of sense to apply more pressure, whether its single, double or triple barreling because you are just going to have a stronger range.

You can also be on the button and have the small blind call your pre-flop raise, small blinds tend to have a tighter range than big blinds. Now you are in position, you may have opened wide and you had a tight caller, so generally speaking he may have a range advantage so you might not have so many triple barrel opportunities. To summarize this point its really going to depend on the two ranges, you will tend to find more triple barrel spots against regulars when your range overall is stronger than your opponents range. With recreational players they may be calling down with a wider range, so you will need to balance your bluffs with value, when you triple barrel.

It’s more about the ranges of both players than if you are in or out of position, it would be the same with 3-bet or 4-bet pots, what are the implications for both players ranges based on the position, reads, etc. That is what will most likely dictate if you are doing more triple barreling or not. If you are not the pre-flop aggressor but call in position and your opponent checks, you are in a position of power, you have a stronger range and he has waved the white flag, to some extent. In most situations the pre-flop raise won’t check – call all the way to the river, it’s in these spots that with the stronger range you can put pressure by betting strongly.

In every hand example, you are thinking about your opponent’s range on every street. Your process seems to be to put an opponent on a range on each street after they call your flop or turn bet. Often you are in position, so they are check/calling. Can you talk about how the check and subsequent call narrow their range, and how you think about the way their range might have connected with the flop? Can you give us some insight into how you hand read like that?

When a player check-calls, you can always think, “What would you I have done here?”

If it’s a wet board and you are sitting with a monster hand, like a set or a straight on a two cards to a flush board, you are probably betting, otherwise you are going to check-raise. So if a player check-calls and does not check-raise, if it’s a particular kind of board, you can immediately rule out a portion of his hands. If it’s a dry board and you think they won’t be check-raising at all then it doesn’t really narrow their range much. When they check it to you and you assume they aren’t leading out with anything, then that’s how you narrow their range, you are illuminating hands that they would have taken a different approach with.

Knowing if their range hits the flop, maybe it comes with experience and getting to a point that you have worked with ranges enough as well as with tools like Flopzilla and Equilab that you can visualize certain ranges and think of it in terms of groupings like suited connectors, suited one gapers etc. You can then look at the flop and see how they all fit together. You can also practice this by using the necessary tools, saving your hand history and then revising them. The more time you spend familiarizing yourself with your hand ranges the more naturally it will come to you while playing.

Bet sizing seems really important when firing our third barrel. Can you speak to what influences your decision to make an overbet, versus a more normal bet or even an underbet?

From a theoretical perspective, what will influence the size of your bet is how strong your range is. Another way of phrasing it is how many bluffs are in your betting range. If you don’t have many bluffs then you should be making a smaller bet size, if you have a lot of hands you want to bluff then you make a bigger bet size, for example your opponent make a 10% pot size bet on the river, you will be calling a lot with hands like top pair, middle pair etc. If your opponent bets twice the pot size, you probably are not going to be calling much at all, from an intuitive perspective it means your opponent will able to stack more bluffs. Most of these examples are theoretical.

In practice, a lot of plays will be done on instincts, for example if you are bluffing and you are on the river there are spots that you know that a 150% pot size bet will get the job done. Of course it can go the other way, when it’s an opponent you have played previously and you have done this before, you switch, now you are placing those big bets with value, because you know he has a read on you with betting a certain pot size on the river. In general you should have a value hand much more than you don’t. Picking your bet size based on instincts means that the majority of the time you better have it, be sure that you are not over bluffing in spots when you are using particular bet sizes.

Online, there’s the added pressure of the time bank and putting your opponent to a tough decision with a limited amount of time. In live games, your opponent has more time to sniff out your bluff. How do you recommend a player compose themselves while your opponent tries to figure out what you’re doing in a live game?

If you are relatively new to the game, don’t know the other players and are lacking confidence, the best would be to keep quiet, keep still and control your emotions. When it comes to betting try even not to speak, because your voice might give something away, do everything with your hand signals while composing and keeping yourself under control as much as possible. As you gain more experience and pick up reads on other players you can start doing some acting or reverse tells, but until then you keep your mouth shut.

Anything you’d like to add in summary about triple barrel bluffing (or anything you’d like to promote?)

Yes, for all the Red Chippers out there, I have created a cheat sheet on triple barrel bluffing that contains a brief series of instructions that will help to get your feet wet, if you are not already triple barreling a lot.

Download Mike Gano’s Triple Barrel Bluffing cheat sheet.