A perfect poker bluff that loses

Lee Childs, courtesy of Ante Up Magazine

Re-printed courtesy of our content partner Ante Up Magazine.

During a recent online session, I pulled the trigger on what I would call the perfect bluff.

I was in the early stages of an online tournament with blinds at 15-30 and most of the players at my table were hovering around the 3,000-chip starting stack. I had 2,950 to start the hand and my opponent was the small blind with 3,145. Normally I play a conservative, relatively tight, straightforward game in the early stages of a tournament. I will mix it up on occasion, but for the most part, nothing too fancy.

In this hand, I was in middle position with the {7-Hearts}-{9-Hearts} and raised to 75. The small blind reraised to 240 and I decided to play a pot in position. My opponent was representing a big hand, so if I happened to hit the board hard, or sense an opportunity to take the pot away by utilizing my position then I would do so. Otherwise I planned to play a small pot.

I called and the flop was {10-Spades}-{7-Clubs}-{a-Hearts}, giving me bottom pair with backdoor flush and straight draws. Not the flop I was looking for, but if my opponent had just an ace, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, 9-9 or worse, I might be able to take this pot away if he showed any weakness. If he showed any resistance I would just fold. I also started my wheels spinning on how I would play the hand if I did have the nuts and proceed from there.

My opponent checked the flop and I checked behind, as I would do whether I hit it or not. In this case, I definitely would check a super-strong hand to induce a bluff from my opponent on a later street. The turn was the {a-Clubs} and my opponent bet 250. I thought my opponent would make this bet with pretty much his entire range since I checked the flop.
Sure, he could have a monster, but I was looking for an opportunity to get to showdown if he checked the river, or represent a monster to try to take the pot away on the river if a good card came for me. So, I called.

The river was the {q-Hearts}. This is exactly what I wanted. Any 10 or queen made for good bluff cards based on the way I played the hand, and of course a seven or nine could’ve given me the best hand. With a seven or nine on the river I planned to call a standard bet or re-evaluate if the bet was larger.

My opponent bet 555 and I moved all-in for 2,650. My opponent has to have a full house to call. He could play this hand like this with any ace in his hand, but I think he needed to fold unless he had A-A, 10-10, A-Q, Q-Q or 7-7. He snap called and showed {a-Diamonds}-{q-Clubs} and I was sent to the rail super early.

The best part about it was I couldn’t have been happier. I happened to run into one of the hands I was representing, but I know if he had any holding I didn’t mention earlier, this player was good enough to fold and I would’ve taken down this pot.

When you make a bluff where your line makes sense and it takes the nuts or close to it to call you, then I think that’s the perfect bluff. In this example, if my opponent had K-K, J-J, A-10, or even A-K, I think he would have to fold. If I had been called by anything weaker than a full house, I’d have to think seriously about my line and if I gave away anything with my betting (or if playing live, with my physical tells). I want my opponent to think, “Well, he must have this if he is betting or raising in this spot.”

There’s no reason in my opponent’s mind for me to be bluffing this big this early in the tournament. Why would I risk so much this early? I almost never do because I don’t have to. This is exactly why I might pull this out of my toolbox early in a tournament from time to time. It is unexpected and with my normally tight image it is going to work often.

Now, the key is to not get carried away with plays like this. If you try to do them constantly, your opponents will catch on and call you much lighter. After pulling off a big bluff, or getting caught trying to, be sure to tighten back up a bit. Also, someone at the table may have been holding one or both cards that would have been the nuts, so they know you pulled that move without the nuts, so beware.

To pull off a perfect bluff you must know your opponents are good enough to fold big hands, you must have a solid image and you must be able to tell a really believable story with your betting and raising. You want your opponent to say, “He simply must have this to be doing that.”

If you can’t put all of those together, then don’t pull the trigger. If you feel it’s the right time to go for it, then let the chips fly. Yes, you are going to run into the nuts from time to time, but if you think about how often you actually have the nuts on the river, then you will realize this type of thinking and action should work in many spots. Just make sure all of your conditions are met before trying this.

Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Go to www.acumenpoker.net.

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