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Jonathan Little on Why Sometimes You Have to Fold Strong Bluff Catchers

Jonathan Little

Some players essentially never bluff. When they bet all three streets, unless you have an incredibly premium made hand, you should fold. You simply must learn to fold your normally-strong bluff catchers against people who never bluff if you want to succeed at poker.

This concept was demonstrated in a hand played by one of my students in a $1/$3 no-limit hold’em cash game. In a seven-handed game with everyone sitting on an effective stack of $300, the player in the hijack opened for $10. In earlier action, this player had a pretty obvious spot to bluff but did not pull the trigger. That’s information worth knowing.

It folded around to us in the big blind and we defended with the {6-Hearts}{5-Hearts}. This is another spot where if the rake was high, you just want to fold, but if it’s reasonable a call is fine. When the flop came down {q-Spades}{5-Spades}{2-Hearts}, we checked knowing that if our opponent bet we’d have a pretty easy call.

Indeed, our opponent continued for $15 and we called to see the {6-Spades} turn, which improved us to two pair. It also completed the spade flush draw. Should we lead and bet into the flop aggressor? The times you want to lead are when the turn is very good for your range. Is the six good for my range and terrible for my opponent? The answer is no.

That’s because my opponent has all the nut flushes in their range as well as all the good king-high flushes. They would raise preflop and continue on the flop with such hands. We on the other hand would check-raise the flop with many of those flush draws, which we didn’t do so our opponent can discount them from our range.

"This is a scenario where, yes, we have the best hand a lot, but we still lack what is called the 'nut advantage.'”

This is a scenario where, yes, we have the best hand a lot, but we still lack what is called the “nut advantage.” I discuss this thoroughly in the cash game masterclass at PokerCoaching.com. Since we lack the nut advantage we want to check with pretty much our entire range here.

We checked and our opponent bet $35. We didn’t want to check-raise in this spot because, again, our opponent held all the flush combinations in his range. We had to call and go from there, so that is what we did to see the {8-Hearts} river.

We checked for the third time and our opponent bet $100. That’s not good, and for us it’s somewhere between a call and a fold. If this player actually does not bluff the river often enough, and remember we already know that's likely the case about this particular player, they’re going to show up with either a flush or set a lot. However, they could also be value betting a worst made hand like aces, kings, or a hand like ace-queen.

Now, you do have to be careful with the idea that just because you saw this player fail to bluff once that they’re not capable of bluffing.

This is a tough spot and I don’t think there’s a real clear answer. If I had a hand like {q-}{10-} I would definitely fold, but with the small two pair, I think you could go either way.

This time our hero does fold and we do not get to see what our opponent hand. It’s probably just a good fold, but we just don’t know. There are going to be spots in poker where there is no clearly definitive answer because you cannot clearly define your opponent’s range. You have to be ok with that, you have to be comfortable with that.

I will say this, in most $1-$3 cash games when people who are generally passive raise preflop, bet the flop, turn, and river, they think they have the best hand. If our opponent thinks they have the best hand, how does our bad two pair fare? Not too great, it’s a bad bluff catcher. If your opponent doesn’t bluff often enough, it seems like an ok spot to fold.

For a more thorough breakdown of this hand, check out my thoughts in the following video:

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com. Sign up to learn poker from Jonathan for free at PokerCoaching.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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