Friday, December 04, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concept 45

After this post, I'll be three-quarters of the way through the concepts at the end of No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller.

Concept No. 45: Know when a hand (even a good one) has more value as a bluff catcher.

This is good advice (after all, it's always good to know things), but the Sklansky and Miller don't give a good explanation of how to identify this type of situation.

The authors merely point out that sometimes you should check with your good hands, especially if you think it's likely that your opponent has a hand that's too weak to call with. This is true, but it's a meager assessment of the circumstances that make it profitable to check-call with good hands rather than to value bet with them. It would be helpful to discuss these circumstances.

For one thing, we need to consider our opponent's style. As I summed up in my analysis of Concept 10, if you've identified any weakness in your opponent's play, try to put him in situations that will allow you to exploit this. There are two types of mistakes your opponents might make that would turn some of your strong hand into bluff-catchers.

The most common weakness that you will be able to exploit is if your opponent bluffs too often. Against such opponents, you should be much more willing to check with your strong hands and use them as bluff-catchers. Another type of opponent is so tight that he will not pay you off if you bet. These players are great to bluff against, but if you hold a strong hand, you want to get him to put more money in the pot. So, it may be better to just check and call against extremely tight players. Often very tight players will be very passive, though, so this opportunity seldom arises.

There are also circumstances that have nothing to do with your opponents weaknesses that can make many of your hands bluff-catchers. Generally, this will occur if your opponent likely knows whether he has your hand beaten. This can happen if your hand-range is extremely narrow (usually because of the type of board and the betting to this point, or maybe you accidentally exposed your cards), or if your opponent's range is polarized (that is, he probably holds either a very strong hand or a very weak one). In such a situation, your only viable options are to check or to put in a small blocking bet. Let's look at some situations where your opponents range might be polarized.

In my discussion of Concept 44, I noted that when your opponent's hand range becomes polarized when he bets on the river: either he has a reasonably strong hand or he is bluffing. If you hold a hand in between these ranges, it doesn't matter much exactly what you hold; all that matters is your opponent's bluffing frequency. If he bluffs too much, all of your hands in this middle range are good to call with. If he bluffs too little, they should all be folded (or, possibly, raised as a bluff).

Another common situation where your opponent's range is polarized is if he is very likely to have had a drawing hand, but you're not sure if he has hit his draw on the river. Your opponent knows if he has you beaten because his hand is polarized. Either he hit his draw or he didn't. Unless you can beat your opponent even if he hit his draw, your hands now turn into bluff-catchers.

There are other probably other situations where your hands might be best used as "bluff-catchers," but these are the most common ones I can think of.

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