Finding Unplanned Bluffs
From a modern day, GTO standpoint, our range should generally have some balance of bluffs and value bets when we’re betting, and those combinations come up as a product of the ranges we’re playing in a given situation. It may sound sexy to say I’m going to bluff this player, this hand, and barrel ahead without a sound plan… but this isn’t the movies and that’s not how good bluffs are made.
What about finding bluffs in unplanned spots? This may be where you’ve overlimped in a multiway pot with a very wide range of hands, without plans to do much bluffing post flop (unless you catch a strong draw perhaps) given the multi-way nature of the pot. Or perhaps when your range is extremely wide, maybe even 100% of starting hands, because you’ve gotten a cheap or free play in the blinds? You may have heard the term “orphan pot” before. It refers typically to pots (often multiway) that no one is betting at, where it seems like no one wants this particular pot. The pot often does go to the first player that bets. But not always, nor is it always wise to be that player trying to pick up the pot. These situations that can be ripe for an unplanned bluff however, if we know what to look for.
I was recently reminded of this while watching a poker streamer miss what I thought was a great bluff opportunity. The action went as follows: This was a tournament in the mid stages; the effective stacks were not short, nor deep, something in the 25-40bb range perhaps. The UTG player limped in, and the button limped as well. Our hero was in the big blind holding 10♣ 7♦ and checked their option, taking a free flop.
The flop came J♠ 8♥ 2♦ , and our hero checked, calling for a 9 to complete their straight. Both opponents checked behind, and we see a turn card which was the 2♠ , pairing the board. Our hero again checked, saying “that’s not a 9”, and again the turn checked through. The river was the 5♠ making the final board J♠ 8♥ 2♦ 5♠ , and again it checked down with our hero exclaiming they missed their straight, no 9. The button player won the hand with T5s, having paired the 5 on the river.
Our hero had no plans to bluff in this hand, and clearly wasn’t even looking for or considering bluffing opportunities, as they were focused on the desire for a 9 to make a straight. But I felt they missed a great bluffing opportunity on the turn here.
In general, when we are considering an unplanned bluff, something not necessarily constructed organically from our ranges and the board texture, what should we be looking for? The ideal scenario will include one where:
- The villain’s range(s) are overly weak and/or capped
- Our range is uncapped
Notice that both of these are criteria are true here. While it’s certainly possible the UTG limper has some traps, they had open limped before and shown down marginal hands. They also failed to bet the flop in a 3 way pot, something most preflop traps that were a strong hand (like AA) would often do. At the point we reach the turn, let’s examine the situation we have and why this is a good bluff opportunity for us. The board is now J♠ 8♥ 2♦ 2♠ .
- Both villains’ ranges are overly weak. The flop checked through, where often players would simply bet a hand like top pair for value and protection, thus reducing the number of Jx combos in their ranges (not eliminating them all, but surely some of those combos would bet). The flopped pairs more likely to check are middle pairs like 8x. But those combos are reduced as well by the blocking effect of our holding. Limpers like to try and see a flop with hands like T8s and 87s, perhaps even 87o if they are loose enough. So our holding a T and 7 helps reduce some of the 8x holdings in their ranges, further weakening them. They are unlikely to limp in preflop with too many 2x combos… 32s, A2s, maybe K2s, and 22 are the most likely candidates. These are very few combos (7 total as listed to be exact). So both their ranges overly weak here and are filled with misses.
- Our range is uncapped. Granted, we won’t have JJ here as we’d raise that preflop. We might check our option sometimes with 88, but also raise the limpers with some frequency as well so those combos are reduced. But we can certainly have quad 2’s in our range, as well as literally all possible combinations of 2x since we got a free play in the big blind. Further, we’d likely check the flop with all our 2x. We can have J8 that we go for a flop check/raise with, or J2 or 82.
- We have some equity vs. callers. When our turn bluff does get called, we still have some equity to improve on as a backup plan. We can river our 9 for a straight and catching a T or 7 may be wins as well, like when we’re getting called by pocket fours for example.
So while our opponents realistically have very few combos of strong hands and their ranges are overly weak, our range has many very strong hands in it that we can credibly represent. Having some equity when called is a bonus that makes this a great opportunity to pick up on an unplanned bluff and run with it.