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Learning How to Become Unbluffable

Learning How to Become Unbluffable
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  • Having a range of hands that can handle bets and runouts goes a long way toward being unbluffable.

  • Gareth Chantler breaks down a hand showing a player use his range and the board to withstand bluffs.

You don't need to wear sunglasses to become unbluffable. Nor do you need to catch your opponent dipping Oreos in the wrong glass of milk.

What you need is a range of hands that can handle what's coming — both cards and bets. Here's a hand illustrating that idea.

Checking Back on the Flop

In a 100NL 6-max. game played online ($0.50/$1), the cutoff opened to $2.50, then the button three-bet to $8. The blinds folded and the cutoff, a loose-aggressive regular, called the reraise.

The flop came {A-Clubs}{4-Spades}{3-Diamonds} and both players checked.

Now, this is a situation where the cutoff might assume he has the best hand when he holds {A-}{Q-} and the button has a lot of hands that can only take one bet of heat — hands like pocket tens through pocket kings.

The question is, has the button checked back enough strong hands to handle that heat?

Considering Hand Strength on a Variety of Runouts

What is hand strength, really, in this precise situation? Let's take a closer look.

If the cutoff player bluffs infrequently across the spread of turn and river combinations, then hand strength does not really matter. A hand like pocket queens will show down often enough when it is best that it does not require protection from other hands in the button's range.

With this in mind, the cutoff needs to bluff different sizes across different turn and river combinations. In this way he can put pressure on the weakest parts of the button's range and win some pots he wasn't entitled to win otherwise.

The button, therefore, has to take countermeasures, including checking back a diversity of hands, not just tens through kings that can be bombed into submission by big bets on scary cards. Strong hands are therefore those that can handle big bets on scary cards.

But by that definition, the strongest hands are not the best ones and the best ones are not the strongest.

Take ace-king, for example. The hand is stronger than most, but can it take heat if the turn is a five and the cutoff lets loose two giant bets? On the other hand, is a turn or a river ace that scary from the button's perspective?

Not really. The button certainly cannot worry about it too much, anyway. If he was ahead with queens after that ace-high flop, he would still be ahead if another ace came. Similarly if he was ahead with {A-}{J-} on the flop, he would almost certainly still be ahead on a king turn in this situation.

Let's rejoin the action at hand to see the concept in stark terms.

Turned Draws

The turn was the {7-Spades}, making the board {A-Clubs}{4-Spades}{3-Diamonds}{7-Spades}. With $17.50 in the middle, the cutoff bet $9 and the button called.

At this point, if the button indeed has those tens through kings, he should be worried. A flush draw has come, and no pocket pair can have a flush draw. There is an ace on the board, and any deuce, five, or six will make a one-liner to a straight. A hand like {J-}{J-} could even be drawn out by a bluff with overcards. A semi-bluff like {7-}{6-} could get there on an innocuous seven as well.

While a seven is hardly the scariest card in the deck, we can see how a weak checking range can put one in vulnerable situations. That's why a protected range has to take on a cross section of bet sizes on different cards. Pocket tens won't be able to handle two bets on any runout that does not contain a ten. But is {A-}{K-} that happy on a runout of {7-Spades} and (say) {2-Spades} versus two bets?

As it happens, the river was an offsuit five, the {5-Hearts}. That made the final board {A-Clubs}{4-Spades}{3-Diamonds}{7-Spades}{5-Hearts}, with the pot $35.50. The cutoff moved all in for $85, and the button happily called with {A-Spades}{6-Spades} (a seven-high straight). The cutoff had {J-Hearts}{9-Hearts} for air.

The button didn't know the cutoff had air. But he didn't need to. If he has enough {6-}{x-} and {2-}{x-} hands in this situation, he will be able to call often enough that the exact constitution of the cutoff's range is irrelevant. The cutoff will be risking too much to make his suicide bluffs possible. This is what we mean by saying the button's range is protected.

From Protection to Exploitation

Knowing the cutoff has a lot of airballs here is something different. That means the button can start clicking his call button with his eyes closed. He will be making a higher profit than he would even with a balanced strategy.

But becoming unbluffable is not about that kind of heroism. It can be achieved more simply, by choosing the right checks and calls as it relates to your own range and the board.

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