Monday, February 05, 2007

Calling a Bluff

I haven't analyzed a hand here in a while. This would be a good time to fix that since I played a satisfying hand at Hollywood Park on Saturday. I was at the 2-3 NL, $100 buy-in game with Aaron. This particular hand was a bit short-handed, with only 7 players. I had KTo and raised to $12 from the cutoff (a much weaker hand than I usually raise with). Aaron folded on the button, the SB called, and the BB folded. The SB had about $105 left and I had him covered.

The SB hadn't been playing long but he seemed like a solid player. He had mostly just folded. but he had also won one hand that I could remember. In that hand he had played tight-aggressive with good cards. Although this makes it much less likely that I'd profit from a big mistake he would make, it also means he'd be a bit easier to read, since I could assume he was making what I would consider good decisions. So I figured he most likely had reasonably good cards here, but probably not great or else, being out of position, he would have had to have reraised me.

With the pot at $22 after the rake, the flop came 678 offsuit, giving me an inside straight draw. My opponent checked. At this point I probably didn't have the best hand. The SB may have called with a little pair, possibly as high as 7 or 8, but even 22 is ahead of me here. He also may have called with A-high. Since I raised before the flop he must expect I have reasonable hand, probably stronger than KT. I decided to continuation bet / semibluff here for $10, which I thought would make him fold A-high and maybe a little pair. He called. Pot: $42.

Turn: T, offsuit, giving me a pair of T's. After his flop call I put him on A-6,7,or8. Other possible hands were straight draws with pairs, such as 89 or 55. Maybe 9T for the straight. If he had other big hands such as 45, 66, or 78, he would probably have raised me on the flop because I'd pay him off with a big pair but possibly fold a straight draw (indeed, I would have folded KT to a check-raise on the flop). At this point my pair of tens is ahead of many of the hands he could have called with on the flop, but the ten could easily have helped his hand as well. Now he could have two pair with a ten or, even more likely, a straight. He checked.

The check is consistent with his having caught his straight, and possibly even two-pair, although two-pair would probably bet here and was already unlikely besides. If I bet now, either of these hands would would potentially check-raise me and I would have to fold. On the other hand I still think he likely has a pair with an ace, or maybe some other hand that I am still ahead of. I decided to bet $25 into the $42 pot. He called. Pot now $92.

River: A. His call on the turn made a hand like A8 very likely. This hand has just made two-pair. Most of the other hands he could have are also still ahead of me. Since he didn't raise the flop or turn, the straight or two-pair are a little less likely, but still entirely possible. At this point my opponent probably thinks I have a big pair, although a straight or set is also possible. I also may have been bluffing and have just caught a pair of aces. I'm hoping he checks and so I can just check behind him.

Instead my opponent went all-in for $72. What can I beat here? Almost nothing except a bluff. The problem is that a bluff suggests that his hand was a draw and missed, but almost all of the possible draws hit! I certainly didn't think my hand was best here, but the size of the bet made me stop and think. The bet was big enough that I could now easily lay down almost all of my likely hands, so it was probably not a good value bet if my opponent wanted me to call... suggesting maybe he's bluffing after all. Also the bet was small enough that I was still getting good odds: about 2.25 to 1. If I had better than a 31% chance of winning, the call made sense.

This is where I actually benefited from knowing my opponent was a decent player. What hands would it be reasonable for him to make this bet with? The likelihood he just caught two pair or has a straight means I can only call here with big hands such as a set or a straight. Maybe AT. All of these hands beat the hand I previously thought most likely for my opponent: A8 or A7. His all-in bet suggests these hands are very unlikely now. Since I can expect him only to make this bet with a super strong hand or a bluff, having a pair of tens is almost as good for me as having a set. It's just not at all likely he has anything in between those two hands. Now the question becomes: is there at least a 1/3 chance he's bluffing?

My initial reaction was: probably not. He probably has the straight here. There's also still a chance he had the A8 after all. Although he played the hand rather oddly, I'd watched him play fewer than 100 hands so I couldn't really be all that confident of his style. Besides, there just aren't that many hands that he could have that are worth a bluff here. Even a hand like 56 might want to just check and hope his pair of 6's beats whatever I have. I decided to look at my opponent to see if he was giving off any obvious tells that he had a big hand, such as heavy breathing. On the contrary, he was staring at the table, trying not to breathe at all! This is common among bluffers; they don't want to do anything that might convince me to call. Earlier he had been a bit more animated, so there was definitely something odd about this. Although I still thought he probably had me beat, this was enough to convince me there was at least a 1/3 chance he was bluffing. So I called, expecting to lose.

Instead, he turned over 55, and my pair of tens was good. Shocked, my opponent decided that this table was a bit too tough and left.

By the way, although he lost all his money, I think I was right about him being a good player. The only questionable play was calling my turn bet. His only out here is a 4 unless he thinks his pair of 5's is good. If I were in his situation, I probably would have folded on the turn. On the other hand, he may have been trying to set me up for the river bluff, which I actually think was an excellent idea. On there river I was ready to fold almost any hand I could conceivably have had except the straight. It was only a minor tell he gave off that allowed me to make the call, and even then it was a pretty close decision.

One more thing: in retrospect, my instinct to check on the river if my opponent had checked was probably wrong. Since I thought he either had a straight or two pair, I certainly didn't think I could win without bluffing. If I had bluffed the river, he likely would have folded two-pair (for the same reasons he must have expected I would fold to his bluff). He'd also fold if he had a worse hand than mine, so no harm done. (Actually if he thinks he has sniffed out a bluff and calls with JT or something, I would win then, too.) Since he checked the river, there was very little chance he had the straight, which was the only hand I think he would have called with! A bluff here would have very likely worked for me. Despite all this the river bluff hardly even occurred to me at the time.

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