Bluff-Raising the River

After another week of grinding, I’m happy and grateful to say that the heater I’ve been riding for the last few weeks has taken me to new heights. This week, while I did record my first losing session, I was lucky enough to book the two largest winning sessions of my career. I played for a total of 36 hours and netted a profit of $3,219. It’s been a pretty unreal ride thus far, and I’m hoping it continues into the future.

This week, I was able to complete all of my goals except the meditation one, which I completely neglected. I feel guilty about this as I thought I was on my way to making it a daily habit, but for some reason I just ignored it this week and never made the time to sit down and actually do it. So, my goals for the upcoming weeks will remain the same until I’m able to complete all of them in a single week.

I want to write a little bit about strategy since the majority of my articles have been focused on the non-strategic aspects of playing poker full time. The idea for this was sparked by my friend and former Jack Cleveland crusher, Chris, who recently moved out to Vegas to pursue his career as a poker player. Chris asked me the question, “When do you think it’s right to hero call on the river vs. bluff-raise the river?”

My short answer to this was that it’s very villain dependent. Obviously, we’re going to want to hero call vs. aggressive opponents who are capable of bluffing while we should bluff-raise vs. tighter players who have a tendency to see monsters under the bed when facing a big raise. In general though, at least in LLSNL, I think bluff-raising rivers is going to yield a larger profit than hero calling. This is because players in the LLSNL pool have a tendency to under-bluff. I think when most of these players bet on the river, especially if the bet is big (in absolute terms), then the bet is going to be for value an overwhelming majority of the time, and hero calling is going to be a losing play. So, I think rather than hero calling, we should take our weakest bluff-catchers and turn them into bluffs by raising or check-raising on the river.

However, we can’t just bluff-raise the river recklessly. Several factors should be taken into account when deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. One of them, as mentioned above, is our read/ history with the villain we are playing against. If we think the villain is capable of value-betting thinly, we should be more likely to bluff-raise them as we can put them in a tough spot with their non-nut hands. If villain is only betting a polarized range, then it makes sense to hero call, because bluff-raising will result in the villain folding all of their bluffs and calling with all of their nut or near-nut hands. Another thing that should be taken into account is the sizing of villain’s bet on the river. When the villain uses a sizing that seems to indicate weakness or a middle-strength type hand, we can exploit that by turning our hand into a bluff and raising. Finally, we need to look at the cards we're holding and see whether or not we block any of our opponent's strong value hands. When we do have good blockers, we should be more likely to bluff-raise. Here’s an example of a hand where I turned a bluff-catcher into a bluff on the river:

Game: 1/3 NL, 9 handed

Hero (525) Button with 9s9d. Moved to the table about an orbit ago and have played 1 hand where I raised MP, got called by the bb, and took down the pot with a cbet on the flop. Villain likely views Hero as good and somewhat aggressive. 

Villain (300) BB. Middle aged man who I’ve played with a couple times and view as weak-tight. In the orbit I’ve been at this table, he’s over-limped once or twice and folded to bets on the flop.

Preflop: Loose-passive fish limps on the CO, hero raises to 15, villain calls, fish calls.

Flop (41) TsKs8s

Checks to hero who bets 30.

Often times I’d check back on this board, but I picked up a physical read on the fish that he wasn’t interested in the hand so decided to bet and try to win the pot now.

Villain calls, fish folds.

Turn (99) 6s

Villain double checks his cards (indicating he likely does not currently have a flush, but may have a single spade in his hand) and checks. Hero checks.

River (99) Kc

Villain thinks for about 15 seconds and bets 35.

I look at this bet sort of as a blocker bet and decide villain’s range is likely capped at a flush due to the smaller sizing. I think his flushes are more weighted towards non-nut flushes, so hands like QJ with a spade or TxJs/TxQs. This was a result of his sizing, as I think he’d bet larger with the Ace of spades. I think villain’s range can also contain some Kx hands here where he’s just trying to get to showdown by setting his own price rather than face a large bet from hero after checking. So, given that I think villain has no full-houses in his range and not many nut flushes, I decide to turn my hand into a bluff.

Hero raises to 140. Villain tanks for about a minute and folds.

I’m going to continue experimenting with this strategy. Special shout out to Chris for sparking and contributing to the idea. I think one my leaks is making too many optimistic hero calls, as I often over estimate my opponents’ bluffing capabilities. After having thought about it and talked through it with Chris, I’m happy to say that I’m on my way to plugging this leak. That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and please make sure to post any comments or questions!