Like most situations in no limit when determining whether or not to bluff catch you should be thinking more about your opponents’ range rather than your own. This will sometimes lead to spot where you make calls with weaker hands in terms of absolute strength due to the blockers in your hand and folds with hands that are stronger due to the lack of blockers.
There is a perfect example of this concept from a hand I played once again from the Commerce’s $5-$10 no limit table a few weeks ago. The villain in this particular hand was an opponent I had caught bluffing the previous week when I called his check raise on the turn with ace high and all-in on river. A few hands previously he had commented about that hand and I had an overall sense that he was trying to basically come after me specifically.
This particular player plays about thirty five percent of his hands preflop. After he limped in UTG +1 I decided to raise in middle position with A♣ T♣ to $40. A tighter player to my direct left called in the cutoff, the big blind called and the villain limper called. The flop came out Q♦ T♣ 3♥. Both the big blind and the limper checked and I decided to bet $90. This flop decision was close. With some frequency I will be checking this flop and with some I will be betting. The tipping point for me in this spot was that it was multiway, I wanted to buy myself position, I thought I could fold out some better tens and there was a case to be made for a little bit of equity protection. If the hand was specifically heads up with position I would be checking back the flop with a high frequency. Much to my dismay the tight player to my immediate left called, the big blind folded and the limper check raised to $350 with about $750 left in his stack. Obviously my immediate reaction was to fold. I was almost certain that the guy behind me had me beat unless he had KJ or J9 and usually players do not put this type of money in the pot at this level without some sort of hand. However, I took a moment and gauged the situation. Because the limper did not raise preflop, and to a lesser extent did not limp reraise after several players called I dismissed him having pocket queens or pocket tens. Also because I had a ten in my hand it was far less likely combinations wise that he held QT. I also did not think that on a rainbow board he would play pocket threes quite this fast as I thought his raise size was quite large. This also wasn’t the type of player to check raise just a queen. So if he did not have a value hand that left KJ and to a much lesser extent J9 (from my experience players don’t semi bluff bottom open enders). I felt like if I called his check raise it would make it almost impossible for the tight player to overcall with just a queen so if I wanted to continue on with the hand there was no need for me to reraise.
Now let us pause for a moment and imagine that instead of A♣ T♣ as our holding we had KK. Obviously our absolute hand strength is stronger but do you see how bluff catching with KK would actually be worse against the range that we assign this villain’s check raising action? Not only would he have fewer combinations of KJ hands but he would also have more combinations of QTs. And, by the way, I think that this type of sizing is more consistent with two pair than it is a set as players want to protect against bad beats. However, almost all of the time you will see players snap fold AT in this spot yet continue on with KK not considering their opponents’ hands or their blockers.
I ended up putting all this together and decided to call. My plan worked out nicely and the nitty guy folded behind me. The turn was an off suit deuce and the limper shoved in the rest of his money. At this point I had to continue to go with my read and I called. Unfortunately, this time I was dead wrong and my opponent tabled 33.
This was definitely a very high variance play and some could make the case that it is not necessary at this level. However, it does prove an important point. The absolute strength of your own hand is not the most important factor when determining whether to call especially if an opponent is polarized and you block a lot of his value hands based upon the cards that you hold.