In this common mistakes series, we’ll cover some of the most frequently made mistakes by beginner and even intermediate players. We’ll discuss what they are, why they’re so detrimental to your win-rate and, most importantly, how to avoid making them.
Removing Bluffs from an Opponent’s Range
This week we’re going to take an in-depth look at the erroneous logic behind removing bluffs from our opponent’s range. This is commonly seen when players take a medium-strength value hand - one that should be high up in the range of hands that bluff-catch - and play it in a way that doesn’t allow their opponent to ever be bluffing, usually by attempting to play it for pure value.
To properly illustrate this mistake, let’s break down a hand that was sent to me a couple of weeks back:
£1/1 Live Cash Game; £150~ effective stack
Hero is dealt under the gun.
Hero raises to £5. MP calls. Button calls. Both blinds fold.
Hero bets £7. MP folds. Button raises to £24. Hero calls.
Hero checks. Button bets £36. Hero raises to £112 and is all-in. Button calls.
Button shows for three-of-a-kind, jacks.
Starting with the pre-flop action, I’m confident that we have made the right decision here! Barring any unusual circumstances, we should always look to raise first in with hands we want to play. Since we are under the gun, we have no choice but to be the first player into the pot and, since we have aces, we clearly want to play the hand!
Talking about a hand with a friend can often help you improve your game
On the Flop
I’m also happy with the way we played the flop. I like that we’ve chosen a small c-bet size (for those of you that haven’t read my guide to bet-sizing, it’s good to choose a smaller sizing on boards where not much can call) as a large bet-size on this flop would discourage pairs 55-99 and high-card hands from continuing, and these are some of the most likely hands we will be getting value from. I wouldn’t mind going a little bigger in order to charge our opponents’ flush draws, but all things considered, the sizing is fine.
Our opponent then decides to put in a raise. I think we can now discredit a lot of the low-pair and high-card portions of their range and instead assume that they’re going to have some flush draws, obviously some hands, and occasionally some backdoor combo stuff such as .
I like that we choose to call this raise. Folding is absolutely out of the question with a hand as strong as aces, and 3-betting now would fold out all our opponent’s bluffs. We want our opponent’s range to include the backdoor draws and non-nut flush draws, but if we 3-bet here we are leaving them with a range that contains and the nut-flush draw.
Since our opponent didn’t 3-bet pre, I think we can happily remove and from their range and, since the is on the flop, they also can’t have . That drastically reduces the number of nut-flush draw combos they can have, and weights their continuing range more towards JX hands than nut-flush draw combos, which is far too narrow for us to continue to get value from by 3-betting this flop with pocket aces. For that reason, calling is best.
Once we’ve called the flop, I am happy to check the turn over to our opponent. In general, you should check to the aggressor, as they are the one telling the story. If they are bluffing, you want to let them carry on bluffing. We do check it over to them, and they put out a roughly half-pot bet. This, however, is where all the wheels come off at the same time.
In my opinion, this should be a slam-dunk call. We should be delighted to check-call the turn for all the same reasons we chose to call on the flop. When we check-shove the turn, we take the logic applied in the paragraphs above, set fire to it, and throw it out the window.
When we raise the turn, as would have been the case if we 3-bet the flop, we fold out all our opponent’s bluffs and most of their draws. If our opponent has specifically they may feel they have to call here, but that is the best-case scenario. Most of the time when they call they are going to have a jack. Our opponent does call, they do have a jack, and we lose a big pot.
If we had called turn and check-called river, then obviously we would still have lost the hand, but at least we would have given our opponent some room to bluff. By taking this line we have removed all value from literally the best bluff-catcher we can have by forcing out all the hands our opponent can be bluffing with.
In future, think of it like this: if I shove the turn and they call, will my reaction be, “yes; got him!” or will I think, “whoops; I probably have two outs.”
If you find yourself thinking the latter, then you don’t have a value hand, you have a bluff-catcher at best. So make sure they think they can bluff you.
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