Most players are incapable of turning medium strength hands into bluffs. Use this to your advantage when hand reading.
If you have read some of my columns in the past or have viewed my training material over at CrushLivePoker.com you know that I strongly believe that typical players do not bluff enough in live no limit. This allows us to have a very solid approach of consistently bet folding for value as our opponents call down far too much and will rarely raise us unless we are beat.
Obviously every situation is different and occasionally you will run into players that will put you into difficult spots when they bluff. But one of the most reliable patterns you can pick up on is the fact that most players are incapable of recognizing that they should turn their medium strength hands into bluffs. And what I mean by medium strength hands is usually something like top pair that has showdown value.
Let us take a look at a hand that a subscriber posted recently in the CrushLivePoker.com strategy forums. The game was $2-5 and the effective stacks were $1300. The history we have on the villain is that we have recently gotten the best of him in pots and he may be out to get us. From under the gun we raise to $20 with A♠ Q♠. The villain calls to our immediate left and both of the blinds call. The flop comes out A♥ Q♦ :T:s giving us top two pair. It gets checked to us and we bet out $60. The villain calls and both the blinds fold. The turn is the 6♦ and we now bet $130. The villain calls again. The river is the 4♦. What is the best play?
The player that posted this hand was not sure exactly what to do because he thought that his opponent might have made a backdoor flush. Of course this is certainly possible as A♦ X♦ makes sense. But, he could also have AK, AJ or any other ace little suited too. With the pot $460 we could easily bet about $250-300 to get looked up by one of these hands (or possibly larger) and never ever have to worry about folding if we are raised. You see, if a player has AJ, AK or say A6cc he has top pair. You will almost never see someone turn that hand into a bluff at the end by raising trying to represent the backdoor flush. Instead on occasion you may see a guy raise with J♣ 9♣ when they miss their straight draw, because they have no showdown value. But in this particular hand it is very unlikely that the villain would have a missed straight draw as his hand his way more ace heavy because of the flop action and his relative position, with two people left to act behind him. He also called a large turn bet. Because he has an ace so much and he will not bluff with top pair the pot is actually protected from being bluffed at making it a very trivial bet fold at the end.
You cannot miss value here. In other articles I have talked about how check-calling the river in no limit is generally bad with a few exceptions and it would be a disaster here to check and have a hand like a single paired ace, which would call a bet, check back. In fact, you could easily make the case here that if you check only better than AQ would bet, making a call incorrect. But that doesn’t mean that the right play is to check-fold. The correct play is to bet. Aces and other worse hands will call us, but will check back the river if we check. And only better hands will raise at the end, hands like A♦ X♦, J♦ 9♦ or KJ making it an easy fold.
The poster of course got scared at the end and checked the river to have his opponent check AKos behind him, pretty much the worst case scenario. There is literally a 0 percent chance that the villain would ever have turned AK into a bluff there.
A few weeks ago I played an interesting hand in Poker Night In America that also proves this point. In this spot, however, the villain was Alec Torelli, a world class nosebleeds no limit player. The game was $25-$50 and Torelli with $10k effective stacks raised to $175. Thomas Connuli called next to act, as did Matt Glantz in the cutoff. I closed the action and just called with 8♣ 8♥ in the big blind. The flop came out 8♠ 6♠ 3♠ giving me top set. I decided to check, as did Torelli and Connuli and Glantz bet $450. I decided to just call not wanting to overplay my hand and Torelli over called. Immediately I thought this was a little bit peculiar as I figured Torelli would bet the nut flush draw most of the time. So I surmised that he might be playing a non spade over pair a little bit safe, had a hand like A× K♠ or A× Q♠ that he did not want to get raised off of or he was slow playing something big. The turn brought out the A♦ and I checked once again. This time Torelli and Glantz both checked. The river was the T♦ and with about $2100 in the pot I bet out $1200 for value. Torelli thought about it for a bit and raised to $4600. Glantz quickly folded and the action got back to me.
Besides the fact that people rarely raise as a bluff on the river the key to this hand was actually the off suit ace on the turn. You see, I just did not think that Torelli would turn a hand like AK with a spade into a bluff—exactly what we have been talking about in this article. If the turn was a blank and the river was a ten it is possible that he might have tried to raise as a bluff representing the fact that he had sandbagged the nuts. But with the ace coming on the turn he most likely would have ran into top pair so there would be no reason to raise. I also thought that the only way he could raise as a bluff is if he had at least the ace of spades blocker, because if he did not I could have the nut flush and the bluff would be suicide. Coupling the fact that I thought he would bet the A♠ with some frequency on the flop and that he would rarely, if ever, turn the A♠ into a bluff on the river made this a relatively easy laydown for me. In fact, when this hand appears on TV sometime in 2016, you will hear me ask him “are you turning the ace of spades into a bluff,” as that basically was the only hand that I could beat at that point. Later on I learned from the live stream that Torelli indeed had flopped the nuts with A♠ 9♠ so I was very happy with the fact that I lost the absolute minimum in the hand.