The main reason you should bluff is to help your value bets get paid. Dara O’Kearney dispels some myths about bluffing.
One of the great myths in poker that recreational players hold onto is that it is a game of bluffing and hero calling. Bluffs and bluff catching often requires nerves of steel and they look good on camera. Even serious players get obsessed with bluffs and bluff catching. They spend a lot of time studying what the right combos and the right blockers are, because that is one of the more difficult parts of poker study.
The reality is how you play your nutted hands is what makes you money in poker. You should only really be a little bit better than breakeven with bluffs and bluff catchers if you choose the best hands with blockers to do it.
Bluffs by their very nature are supposed to be break even. Similarly bluff catching should only break even long term. You make money in poker from having the best hand and getting value from it. At equilibrium you should bluff the correct amount of times to make your opponent indifferent to calling.
Value drives everything
Take this example, we are at the river on a QJ248 board with 43 big blinds in the middle and 19 big blinds behind. When checked to, this is the in-position player’s range and actions:
Red is bet, green is check
If you look at the individual hands here, AK is the nuts and obviously bets. The expectation for that hand is 55 big blinds.
Contrast this with A6 which also bets as a bluff. It also has a positive expectation of just under six big blinds.
One hand makes you 55 big blinds and the other makes 10% of that.
The same is true with bluff catching. When the in-position player makes that bet, this is the defender’s range and actions:
Green is call, blue is fold
Calling with QJfor top two pair earns you 51 big blinds.
The bluff catcher here is Q9, the spade blocker being the reason why this makes a good bluff catch. That hand earns us a mere four big blinds, less than 10% of what the two pair call earns us.
Your bluffs service your value
Bluffing is cool but it doesn’t pay the bills
If you think of your range as a business, your value bets are the part of the company that makes all the money and the bluffs are that department that breaks even but is in service to the successful part of the business. Think of your bluffs like the Human Resources department of your poker business, they are not supposed to turn a profit. If you never bluff your value bets will never get called.
This advice is only when you are facing balanced players. Bluffing against nits is very profitable and bluff catching against maniacs is also a big earner.
Value betting the nuts is not exactly sexy, anyone can do it, but there are still plenty of players who own themselves by playing trappy with the nuts. The skill is not in betting the nuts but on constructing a range and playing it in such a way that your nut bets get called. That means, amongst other things, bluffing at the right ratio so that your value bets get paid off. GTO is the opposite of fancy play syndrome in this respect, your value hands drive how you should play and the rest of your range should be trying to disguise your value.
Dara O’Kearney’s new book Endgame Poker Strategy: The ICM Book is out now.