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Don't Try to Bluff Catch a Range Without Bluffs

Don't Try to Bluff Catch a Range Without Bluffs
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  • A classic example from online 100NL where a player tries to bluff catch vs. a range without bluffs.

  • A 100NL hand illustrating a common mistake of a player hoping (erroneously) an opponent is bluffing.

This was a real hand with real cards and real players on the internet. It is over now, but I will tell you the history. It is a parable about realizing when your opponent's range doesn't include bluffs.

Ace-High Flops

The game is six-handed no-limit hold'em, $0.50/$1 (100NL). A recreational player starting the hand with $175 opens the cutoff to three big blinds ($3). A regular then three-bets to $10 from the small blind. The cutoff calls.

Not all ace-high flops are created equal. When they are dry — like the {A-Clubs}{9-Hearts}{3-Diamonds} one that came — most often both players are going to be in a "way ahead, way behind" situation.

The only real draw here would be with {5-}{4-}-suited. The-out of-position player has a big advantage, as he could have {A-}{K-} and {A-}{A-}, whereas the in-position player's range includes many weak hands, suited Broadway cards, and pocket pairs. On the other hand, the cutoff can also have {A-}{9-}-suited, {9-}{9-}, {3-}{3-}, and {A-}{3-}-suited.

Starting with a Continuation Bet

The small blind continuation bet $10 on this flop and was called. On the {8-Clubs} turn he bet again, this time $24. Our recreational player, with the advantage of position, called once more.

The river was the {Q-Spades}.

One would expect the small blind to have a wide-ish value betting range, from {A-}{9-} and {A-}{3-} preflop bluffs that connected, to {A-}{Q-} and {A-}{K-}. If he was trying to steal preflop with {J-}{10-}-suited, he also managed to "get there."

Meanwhile the cutoff player looks like he has a very "showdown hand range." There are no missed draws, save the aforementioned {5-}{4-}-suited.

No Value in Checking

Despite the range advantage and the value of his hand, the small blind actually checked {A-}{K-} on this river.

Perhaps he afraid of {A-}{Q-} — an example of "worst-case scenario" worrying. Sure, the cutoff player would call the three-bet with {A-}{Q-} and would call both the flop and turn bets, but he would also do so with {A-}{10-} and {A-}{J-}, and potentially with other hands that could pay off a river value bet.

So that's a first point to make here on the river — there are hands that can call a third bet from the small blind. The pot is $88, there is $131 left in the effective stacks. So there is plenty of room for a value bet with {A-}{K-}.

What about the alternative? Those showdown hands just mentioned for the cutoff are all going to check back. They want to get to showdown, and they have an easy path to get there after the small blind checks. In fact, every hand worse than {A-}{K-} is likely to check back.

Meanwhile there are slow plays and hands that have improved — hands like {9-}{9-}, {A-}{Q-}, {A-}{8-}, and {3-}{3-} that were not afraid of the board can now spring into action.

Categories of Hands

After the small blind checked with {A-}{K-} and the board showing {A-Clubs}{9-Hearts}{3-Diamonds}{8-Clubs}{Q-Spades}, the cutoff
shoved all in for $131 into the $88 pot.

There are very few bluffs to be seen here. Even if the cutoff had bet something on the order of 55 big blinds, the small blind would have a tough decision with {A-}{K-}. Calling such big bets means hoping to see an unlikely hand.

Moreover, there are actually many hands in the cutoff's range of possibilities that are strong enough to shove for this overbet.

What Not to Do

This is a not uncommon situation, where the three-bettor and aggressor can either bet or check-fold. Because of the depths of the stacks here, bet-folding is a viable possibility. Instead the player checks, gets the signal that the cutoff rates his hand highly, and ends up calling off very hopefully with {A-}{K-}. What looks like a cooler is not.

The small blind called, and saw {3-}{3-} this time. It's a hand that makes all the sense in the world, but it could just as easily have been {9-}{9-}, {A-}{9-}, or {A-}{Q-}.

The hand is a classic example of a situation where one player effectively tried to bluff catch against a range that contained few, if any, bluffs.

There are some situations where you don't need to police your opponent for bluffs because of the way the board has run out, how far they player would have to go to bluff you, and how many chips your opponent has risked to do so.

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