3bet Bluffing a Flop

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I was reviewing a number of my WCOOP hand histories when I came across this hand. I thought it did a great job of illustrating when to not believe an opponent’s flop raise.

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The blinds are 3,000 and 6,000. The buy-in is $215. It’s one of the medium stakes WCOOP Sunday majors. Play had begun to get tense as we got deeper. I took the opportunity to open up.

Under the gun, I raise to 12,025 from my starting stack of 248,000.I have the Ac and 9h. In a nine-handed game, this is overly ambitious. You’re not often going to be called by A-2 through A-8. When those few hands you do dominate come along for the ride, they are going to have a hard time calling down multiple streets. However, the plentiful combinations of A-9+ will have a much easier time calling you down. Your reverse implied odds are tremendous. Your blocker potential means little when you have to go through eight opponents.

I get called by UTG+2. He started the hand with 286,000 in chips. He seems a bit touchy. He’s been time-banking down for a long time when he has had to fold. He’s held on for multiple streets in hands versus other name players. In these hands, he’s showed up with some questionable holdings. We’re going to have to put up a fight if we play against him.

All other players fold. The flop comes 4s-Kc-6c. The board is missing a wider calling range. I believe this player is calling me with many suited connectors and two big card combinations that other players might fold to an UTG raise. This broader calling range leads me to believe he’ll just have air too often to not continuation bet. My hand also has little showdown value.

I bet 18,025. He instantly makes it 48,000. I had not seen him raise a flop continuation bet before. He’d been calling down very wide. He wasn’t raising.

Take a second to think about what you would do. I find I learn much more from hand history analysis when I compare my answers and methodology with that of my colleagues before they tell me their answers.

If you said, “Just fold,” I wouldn’t blame you. You have never seen him do this play and this was a pretty hopeless bluff to begin with. It’s never that bad in No Limit Hold’em to cut your losses when you have no idea what to do. I also applaud your honesty. Given the title of the article, you know what I’m going to suggest you do, but you’re admitting that’s not what you do.

What do you think he has when he raises here? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Start listing out the hands in his range.

If you 3bet here, start listing out all of the reasons why you’d do it. Don’t just smile and go, “Oh good, I like to 3bet here too sometimes.”

The fact you 3bet here on occasion doesn’t really mean much of anything. Maybe it’s the right answer. Maybe it’s not. How your play fares in one instance really doesn’t say much. What can help us quite a bit is if our plays are based on firm logic. Describe to yourself what logic you’d apply here.

Many guys say when they 3bet here, it’s a feel thing. In that case, you should be marking hands when you play, seeing if your feel usually leads you to a correct response. If it often does, that means your subconscious is likely latching on to something. Don’t be afraid to feel stumped for a minute while you try to break down what you do habitually.

Does your hand mean anything? What do you think of the sizing? What is your gut instinct picking up on? Once you start understanding your own reads more intimately, you will be more likely to apply them in thinner and thinner spots. Remember, Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I seriously wanted to fold. I was playing too many tables and had been a little amped up. I usually don’t like opening this hand. I wanted to get out as soon as I hit the raise button pre-flop. This flop raise was only giving me more motivation to muck.

Then, I thought about it a bit more. His raise size was interesting. Normally when people are trying to get you to buy something for a price they know is unfair, they try to make it seem slightly smaller. When a used car salesman is trying to sell you a clunker, he will tell you, “Look, friend, it’s not $10,000! It’s $9,999.”

This bet sizing was firm: 48,000 on the nose. Imagine some shady car salesman has his friend coming in later that day and his friend really wants to pick up the Volvo you’re looking at. When he’s not trying to entice you, he’ll probably say, “Yes, it’s $10,000.”

Many poker players fall into this betting pattern. When they want a call, they make it 59,250 – they’re trying to get a sale. When they don’t want a call, they make it 60,000. Others do the exact opposite.

I’m pretty lazy about note-taking too, but when I’m deep in a tournament now, I note the bet sizes on every hand I don’t play. Other than it being a great way to tame my pitiful attention span, it can give you some deadly reads. I’ve seen some guys who 100% of the time use the same kind of bet sizes for a bluff or made hand.

The fact he made it that size, and not something like 47,257, is not enough to make me want to 3bet. Let’s look at how large this bet was. Most MTTers, when they bluff raise, make it around 40,000. This was larger than that.

This actually hurts my case for 3betting. More often, I find smaller raises to be bluffs. When they make it this big, they often have a hand they want to get it in with.

That being said, people who play fast on flops also tend to overvalue top pair or raise more with weaker semi-bluffing hands. I hadn’t seen him do anything with an ace-high flush draw yet, but I had seen him with weak top pairs and medium flush draws. He called with all of them.

Furthermore, if a guy has been getting barreled into all night, isn’t he a little more likely to float with a set here? His default play with mediocre hands is to call down. He might feel the need to blend in his larger hands with that.

Since we’ve never seen him raise a medium draw or a one pair combination, his range has become polarized to sets, a slow-played overpair, the ace-high flush draw, and maybe A-K (although I doubt it).

Think about how our hand affects his value range. He’s going to have a much harder time making A-A and A-K because we have an ace in our hand, but that also disrupts some A-X combinations that he’s turning into a bluff, so the ranking of our card doesn’t change much.

The suit of the ace we have does change things. We have the ace of clubs. The only flush draw he could have been credibly representing with this raise size is the ace-high flush draw. Most players now do not raise a medium flush draw with no overcard and get in 40+ big blinds. We’ve also seen him call with those hands before.

Having the ace of the flush draw’s suit changes things more dramatically than most people realize. It is very difficult to make a set. There are six ways to make a pair combination, and that’s if you start with all four cards available of that rank. With one being on the board, it becomes less likely someone has two in their hand.

There are 16 ways to make an unpaired hand in No Limit Hold’em, and there were a ton of these 16-combination type hands possible if the ace-high flush draw is in his range. A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5, A-7, A-8, A-9, A-10, A-J, and A-Q – there were so many more nut flush combinations possible than set combinations. By removing them, it’s hard for him to have anything on this board.

The instant timing of the raise said a lot to me. It would have made perfect sense if he had A-A and was ready to spring the trap, but I have one of those aces. It would have made sense if he had A-K and was thinking, “Okay, time to get it in,” but he had been a calling-type opponent post-flop.

An ace-high flush draw would have made the most sense with the timing. Many people know an ace-high flush draw is a good hand that has a lot of value on the flop, but is really hurt by a blank turn card. They know the hand is vulnerable, but feel the need to play it fast on the flop anyway. They don’t want to brick the turn and cry folding or calling to your double barrel. They know raising will remove all of the turn guess work. So, the adrenaline kicks up, and they snap raise.

Some people do the same instant raise with a set, but they are fewer. Most people take their time to either feign weakness or to ponder slow-playing until the next street.

With all of this on my mind, I couldn’t see a way to fold anymore. I made it only 32,000 more, making it 80,000 in total. I didn’t think it would take more than that. I perceived his range to be absolute garbage or the nuts. There were no medium strength hands to price out. His stack size wasn’t comfortable for 4bet folding.

He folded the second I hit the raise button, but that means little. I’ve botched this play more times than I can count. All I can really focus is on is that same question: How strong were my reasons for 3bet bluffing?

Alex AssassinatoFitzgerald has amassed $3,000,000+ in tournament earnings alone. Alex is an instructor at PocketFives Trainingand can be reached for private lessons at Assassinatocoaching@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter @TheAssassinato and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Assassinato. He currently resides in his suburban home in Costa Rica with his fiancé and poodle.

16 COMMENTS

    • great article… just curious, are there any hands you are 3betting for value or semi-bluffing here?

    • Its interesting, at times I fold here due to me having the NFD blocker weighting their hands to top pair and sets etc. And ive been reluctant to barrel off on stations even with blockers. But your article makes me think im getting owned now haha. Great article going to def. start breaking down hands as in depth as you even when im 16-tabling

    • great article!

      stacksizes and board texture invite for such a bluff raise. the sizing is too big and doesnt look like it induces a 3bet bluff, what villain would want to do with a set. if he’s a “careful” player and calls a lot i doubt he would slowplay aces preflop, but still possible tho. a one pair typa hand has zero reasons to raise there, and there are so few combos of KX he could have there, and with all of them he brings himself in a stupid spot if he raises and gets raised, which a typical calling/passive/careful player won’t do. i also dont think a careful player like this who’s calling a lot cares about having a tough decision on the turn with a draw. as u described him, he doesn’t give you any action unless he’s sure he gonna win the hand, so basicly a raise by him is always polarized, and u prolly never see him thin vbetting and stuff. imo, if he makes a smaller raise and doesn’t snap act it’s a completely different spot. in this spot, there’s no value hand i can think of that’s gonna raise on the flop with that sizing and timing, so u played it great (but i also think his flop raise works vs most players/ranges, so it’s not bad, but vs thinking players u have to think one step ahead and i prolly would raise less on the flop to leave myself room to 4bet bluff and put villain in a “have it or not”-spot, instead of giving my opponent good conditions to put me in that spot, if i had air and was going to make a big move on the flop, after being a nit for hours or whatever). and i dont think you have to name single hands that might raise there. the flop is basicly a king only. there almost never gonna be straight draws, never 2pairs, u have the Ac which is a blocker and at the same time gives u some backdoor equity, top pair rarely gonna raise, unless uve seen villain getting in 50 bb stacks with top pair on the flop vs an utg raiser who only will get it in there with kk and AK or maybe slightly wider with history.

      what got me a bit confused was when u said that people make 9999 to look weaker. this is completely wrong imo. a XX999 raise shall look stronger because it looks like a huge amount of chips on the online poker table. and many players also use that to mind fuck other players, but without reads about this u always guessing what it means. so if he doesnt make it 47999 and u also never seen him a bet/raise like this and also didnt see with which hand he did this, then u cant count that as a good argument for bluff 3betting him on the flop.

      again great article, but i think it would be cool if you would describe ur thought process like here and also post hands which you lost to balance, without posting results in future articles. results always kinda fake other analisys, but let’s say u are known for posting hands u lost with, without posting results. i think there would be a great discussion with many different arguments for alternative plays. it’s obv up to you, but i think if it was unknown if ur move was successful or not, then people wouldn’t be “scared” to disagree with u. we all want to find the most optimal play, and if someone posts a good result it makes many players think that this gotta be the best play, and it automaticly makes brains lazy, u know.

      i throw in an idea:
      what if we just call his raise and check raise his turn bet? i know this idea is a bit fancy, but if we really cant give him any value hand there (i can’t, like i mentioned above), it means he cant win without taking a stab at the pot. we obv would be fucked if he hits some 2nd pair with one of his 6 outs, checks back turn and doesnt fold to a river bet anymore. but how much is that risk of him hitting a 6 outer on the turn vs winning more money by letting him cbet turn and (min?)raise that bet? the risk is higher, but the reward is higher as well usually. i personally dont give villain a draw here, so any card that completes any draw is great for us, but actually also any other card that doesnt give him a pair. the point is, if he hits the turn he most likely will check back and try to improve on the river, but at the same time will hero call a river bet on most rivers. so if he does bet the turn it’s prolly a bluff and we can safely add more chips to our stack.

    • Forgive the brevity of my responses. Really tired.I would do this with a number of hands in my value range.RedIce, I appreciate the write-up. I overstated the bet sizing thing. It’s been a reliable read as of late, so I oversimplified. Some people do try to make their beats look messy and larger with the 47,922 thing when they don’t have anything. I was trying to say people sometimes fall into some definitive categories, and we need to pay attention.You’re right, this would be a lot more interesting without results. Next time I will leave them out.Calling down seems extremely difficult out of position. It would look cool, but we haven’t seen him run a bluff like this yet. That is going to make it difficult to decipher his turn betting frequency. The safer play with less variables seems to be 3bet/folding.You’re also right on the sizing of his raise being suspicious, since he’s not leaving a 3bet/fold. Great point. Alex

    • Great article ! I will use this more to help my thought process on hands when trying to narrow their range down

    • I like the sentiments behind the article, but let me just say that i think this specific board texture is one that is not in your best interest to bluff, first of all he has called you fairley early, secondly with 2 clubs on board he could give u alot of draws if you rejam, or he could have club draw that he rejams, making it imposible to call, playing this pot out of position puts u in a tough spot and i feel that jamming on this texture OP would be a bad choice, he could easily have a set here aswell. I feel that its a bit of a reach to give him air here, You have raised UTG in a 9 handed game, so allready you are repping somthing decent, if he is fairley capable and his fundementals arent warped surley he will understand that. But hey (UTG is the new button) but in a 9 handed game .. Nt quite sure. Just my opinion.

    • Excellent Article. I told you some weeks ago: when I read your articles, I understand why I am ‘another player’.

    • Excellent Article. I told you some weeks ago: when I read your articles, I understand why I am ‘another player’.

      Anybody can tell you I was behind the curve for a long time. Just keep grinding with constant study. Don’t be afraid to go “I don’t understand, please teach me.”

    • Was this player a completely unknown player? and how many hands had you played with this player?If this player has some level of thinking, he must have an image of you? You must have had to take into account the hands he has seen of you playing? In that your line is plausible for your value hands?I think the fact that he snap folds explains a lot anyway, that this player just automatically believes you must have ak plus etc…And all you had to do was determine he has air a very large percentage of the time, and never been rebluffed. Ie an average level thinking player.I believe I may have somehow comprehended most of what you detailed whilst been awake for too long.For the record, out of interest, what is your best live cash? and do you believe you are a better live or online player?Sorry for all the questions, you provoked a lot of thinking on my behalf!

    • think people are discounting information on villain, he is basing his decision partly based on opponents style of play.

    • I really liked the article because you go through the thought process. For a lot of improving poker players dealing with three-bets is a real trial if only for the fact they have not faced enough situations being 3-bet to get “experience”. Refining an opponent’s range by taking into consideration the way the opponent has played to date and using the exact bet amount as a sort of supporting advice is fascinating. Thanks for writing it though I am going to be thinking about it for a few days before trying to use it in the appropriate situation.