Raises to overbets are rarely bluffs
If you have read my articles here before you know that I have strong opinions regarding late street raises, especially on the river. The simple fact of the matter is that these aggressive actions are almost never bluffs at the mid to low stakes of live No Limit holdem.
People often ask me if I ever feel personally exploited at the table because I have made my feelings about bet folding for value so strong. These people wonder if I am actually getting bluffed a lot because of my idea that turn and river raises from your opponents are almost never bluffs. My response is simple. I do not fold all the time. The line that my opponent takes has to make sense in order for me to fold. I have certainly picked off some bluffs over the last few years on later streets because my opponents line does not tell a story.
However, even when your opponents line does not seem all that viable you really have to take a step back if you face aggression versus a pot size or overbet that you make on a later street. I have a perfect example of this and it came from a $5/$10 NL game that I played a few days ago.
The villain in the hand was a Middle Eastern, late 50s to early 60s recreational player. I had played with him a few times before and he certainly was not a high level thinker. He also had a bit of a tilting streak in him that made him sometimes do some whacky things. He sat with $1150 to start the hand and I had him covered. A very fishy older gentlemen with about an $800 stack limped in under the gun and I decided to isolation raise to $40 in the cutoff with K♠ 8♠. The button three bet me to $80, almost a mini-raise. Everyone folded, including the limper and getting pot odds I decided to call.
The flop came out Q♠ 6♣ 8♣ giving me middle pair. I checked, first to act and my opponent did not take long and checked behind. At this point with the preflop and flop action I thought that there was a very good chance that the button had AK, or possibly pocket nines or tens. The turn was the 4♠ giving me a flush draw now to go along with my pair. Here, I decided to bet small to target AK and lead for $100. The button thought about it for a moment and called. The river rolled off the K♥, which I found extremely interesting as it gave me kings up. At this point I thought that it would be unlikely that the button would call another bet with TT or 99 so I really wanted to go for the gold and target AK. So with the pot being $380 I decided to overbet $450. The button thought for about 20 seconds and then announced “all-in”.
This action on the river was absolutely shocking. When I went back, looked at the board and remember the action the hand just did not make any sense. I tried to think of the “monsters” that he might slowplay here. QQ as top set just wasn’t congruent. First of all, people usually don’t just min raise QQ preflop because they want to protect against over cards. And even if he did take that sizing it would be unlikely that he would check back the flop on such a wet board. But even if he were to check back the flop with top set he would then have to just call the turn, with two flush draws appearing and a straight draw. I thought that this was next to impossible. I went through all of the other hands he may have overplayed at the end like AA, KK, AK, KQ and none made any sense. Those hands would not check back the flop, call the turn AND raise all-in on the river.
At the end the pot was laying me over 3.5-1 and I could not think of a hand that was logically played in this manner. However, sometimes you have to lean on your experience in spots like this and in the 10 years of playing and broadcasting professional poker I could not think of a single time where someone had bluff raised the river versus an overbet or overplayed a hand like those listed with this action. However, a lot of times if a hand makes no sense and I am getting pot odds I will just sort of close my eyes and call. And this is exactly what I did here. Unfortunately for me my opponent said “set” and tabled QQ.
This leads to the main point of this tweet. Even If someone’s line does not make sense if you are dealing with raises to your overbets people seem to play “straight up” and their bluffing frequency is extremely low. In this case I probably should have leaned more on my live poker playing experience and the rarity of the situation as opposed to fall back on what was logical hand reading.