Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Inducing the Bluff -- Part I

A decent while ago I did a series of posts called "Anatomy of a Slow Play", which you can view by clicking on their links in the left column over there. In those posts I detailed my general strategy, with specific examples and screenshots, of how I like to slow-play pots when I have a monster early. Among other things I discussed my general goal when I slow-play, which is to get every single chip that the other guy has in his stack. I find that, especially in on-line play due to the significantly larger number of hands seen per hour, it is almost always not profitable to slow-play a monster early unless there is a decent chance that you can empty someone else's entire stack. Otherwise, the suckouts and bad beats just seem to pile up over time for anyone who routinely slow-plays their Aces, flopped straights, etc. But if I feel I have a decent chance at relieving an opponent in the hand of all of their chips, then in a sense I have the implied odds necessary to take on the otherwise risky move of giving my opponent the chance to catch up on a later street for cheap. In this series of posts, I will describe a key element of slow-playing and just of winning poker in general -- how I help "convince" an opponent to bet or bluff into what I believe to be my winning hand. First, in Part I I will deal with the situation when I think my opponent does have a hand, but that I have an even stronger hand going for me.

There is a really simple answer for me on how to induce a bet, although there are a number of other pieces of the puzzle as well that cannot be explained so simply. Following Mike Caro's 30+-year-old advice, when I want someone to bet into me because I am actually quite strong in a given hand, I want to act weak. In a live game, I have many tools available to me for me to give off the impression that I am weak. I can reverse Caro's standard tells -- I can hold my breath, I can try to remain perfectly motionless, etc., or I can try to give off a subtly weak impression in other more direct ways as well (try to seem afraid, refuse to look at my opponent, seem scared, etc.). But in online play, all of those physical mannerisms are not available to me to coerce an opponent into thinking he knows I'm weak when I am in fact very strong. In online poker, I basically have two options in my arsenal as far as appearing weak: the amount of my bets, and the timing of my bets. I can bet a third of the pot, or I can bet three times the pot. I can make my bet immediately when it is my turn, or I can wait 10 seconds, or 30 seconds, before I make my bet. Amount and timing of bets are really the only two general areas I can control in online play to give off an appearance of weakness, of someone who my opponents think they can steal a pot from with a bet.

So how do I use these tools to cause an opponent to think I am weak when I am strong? The key for me lies in being able to put myself exactly into the shoes of someone who has the hand I want my opponent to think I have. I have to play my hand precisely the way that guy would play his lesser hand. I have to bet the same amounts, and I have to use the same hesitation (or lack thereof) as that guy would use since he actually has a weak hand. That deception is key, and if I can't mimic that guy who really is weak exactly, then good poker players are going to pick me off and look me up. Often times, a strong player who relies on his reads will call you if something just generally seems off about your play, even if he or she cannot put his or her finger on exactly what it is that is wrong with your betting pattern. As you all have seen from my previous Hot Hand and other posts, if someone makes a bet that seems out of line on the river, and I can't figure what exactly he would have played with to get to that point and still be betting on the end, I will often make a call, even with a not-great hand if I think there's a good chance I might be ahead. And there are plenty of players who read others' hands better than I do. Those guys are going to catch a player like me if I haven't played this hand from start to finish just exactly the same way it would have been played if I truly had the weak hand that I am trying to induce my opponent to bet into.

A good rule of thumb, if I can put my opponent on an exact hand and that hand has some strength to it, is to try to play my hidden monster exactly like the hand that is just worse my opponent's likely holding. So, for example, say I am holding 77 in early position and I raise it up 3x. One opponent calls from the small blind, and we see a flop of A73. Now, my opponent leads out into me for the size of the pot. If I believe my opponent is on AK or AQ here -- a likely read given the play so far without knowing any other context involved in the hand -- then I will want to play my hidden (and significantly leading) trips as if I have an Ace but with a weaker kicker than my opponent. Why? Because all he has is TPTK. If I play my hand like I have trips, or if I play like I have a draw and then a scare card for a draw falls on the turn, then I may lose him. Instead, since I am trying to get him to bet into me, I want him to think that his TPTK is good, but I have a hand like AJ or AT that is just worse enough than his, that I might be willing to pay him off.

Similarly, if the board through the turn comes 5h6h5d7h and I am lucky enough to be holding 75 in my hand for the nut boat, I want my opponent with a decently strong hand to think I am on a straight, or maybe a low flush (in case he has a higher flush). I'm not going to get paid huge on this hand unless he has a good hand himself, but I have a great hand, and can convince him that I have a hand just good enough to call with, then I am going to make a big payday here. Again, the key to inducing a strong opponent to bet big into me when I am even stronger, is to tell him a story that is convincing from the moment that the cards first came out up until right now, and execute that story perfectly and consistently throughout. That is the way that I get a player to be so confident that he's ahead that he will make the biggest possible mistake.

Here is a hand from about 40 minutes in to the partypoker 40k guaranteed tournament that nicely illustrates this principle. With blinds of 50-100, it is folded around to me in middle position with A2s. I limp, hoping to make trips, two pairs or a flush draw on the flop, and knowing I will likely fold if the flop does not bring me one of these options:

Late position (the cutoff) also limps in, the blinds call, and we have four players to see a very strong flop:

It is checked twice around to me in MP. Here I have flopped the nuts (other than the extremely unlikely straight flush, which I'm just not going to worry about without another scare card on the board), and it happens to be a flop that many other players are likely to have connected with in some way. I want the guys holding an 8 or a Queen to think they are in good shape with their draws. I want the guy holding the King of diamonds to want to stay in here with his draw too. I want the guy with J9o to think he's ahead with his two pairs, as well as the player with QJo who now has top pair and an oesd. I want all of these guys to think they are ahead, so they will stay in the pot here, and bet into me on a later street. To give that impression, and since I know someone's going to bet at this meaty flop, I check after just a short pause:

and the cutoff overbets the pot here, scaring off our other two players and leaving the decision to me:

OK so let's think what this guy has that he is overbetting the pot like this. When I am tempted to overbet the pot (although I almost never actually give in to the tempation, as I feel overbetting tends to give away too much in most situations), it is usually because I have a hand that is likely the best right now, but is highly susceptible to draws. For example, in this flop of JT9 all suited, a player with AJ, or maybe JT, J9 or T9, is the type of player who I would say is likely to push hard here on the flop. This guy wants to get everyone else out of the pot quick, so he fears the draws, but has made something good on the flop already. Trips wouldn't play this strongly most likely, but two pairs seems like a good guess, or at the least TPTK.

So, if he's looking at TPTK or two pairs, my best bet to get him to bet again at me will be to make him think I am also on top pair with a lower kicker, or possibly on a draw as long as it doesn't hit on a later street to freeze my opponent from betting again. With either of those hands, I would have very possibly checked the flop given its scary nature, and now would likely just call his bet in the hopes that he is on a draw that doesn't fill on the turn card. So I smooth call:

and out comes the turn card, a very interesting one for this hand: the 7♠. This card looks kinda raggy, but it also now completes the straight for anyone holding an 8. This is bad for me in that I am trying to convince this guy I have a top pair weak kicker or some kind of a draw, and now one of the obvious draws just filled on the turn. If I have any chance of getting paid off by this guy and what I still think is TPTK or two pairs, I have to make like I was not helped by that 7. So I have to check it again on the turn:

and he falls for the bait:

I would ask you to guess what this guy is holding in his hand, but it's not worth it. Let's just say he made a truly donkey play and leave it at that. But again, the key to my doubling through this guy here is that I played this hand specifically like I was weak, going back all the way to the beginning of the hand when I just open-limped from middle position. I never gave off any signal that I was strong, so even when the board came out very threatening on the flop, my passive approach led my opponent to believe he could get me to lay down if he just made a bet on the flop, and another large bet on the turn.

The overall lesson I take from hands like this is that, on a strong board and with multiple players in the pot, with a monster hand it sometimes makes good sense to play really slow and passive, because the odds are that someone else out there has hit the strong board fairly well and will do the betting for you. In Part II of this post I will show how my philosophy is different when I flop a monster on a weak board.


Blogger slb159 said...

Right...the strong means weak idea I used in the QQ vs KK hand with fishiswa last night in the cash game. I bet my KK as fast as I could at every opportunity to try to make it appear that I was acting strong when I was weak. I try to be sneaky like that at times, but it usually gets me in trouble.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Blinders said...

I like how you played it, but I always seem to lose when I flop a flush for some reason then say "
stupid flopped flush" afterwards. Beacuse of that, I prolly would have reraise jammed the pot on the flop.

You were pretty safe though for a couple of reasons.

1) You had the nut flush
2) The overbet does not look like he has a set, eliminating the chance that he has a good draw to a better hand then yours.

I always try not to go broke protecting a hand that may already be behind, but not too many people grasp this concept. This was PartyPoker, so I bet he calls a reraise jam on the flop with nearly all hands that he overbets with.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Although I don't think that it would have made a difference against this opponent, I'd be interested to know what you think about leading out with a small bet here, maybe 100 or 125, and the merits of doing so. Even though it's not often that someone flops the nut flush, it happens, and almost everyone will check it. A small bet may throw someone off into thinking you're weak and just as likely induce action, maybe even from more players who are drawing because of the lower price to pay. To me, it seems that the success of this hand was about 35% your slow play and 65% your opponent's donkishness. Thoughts?

And please tell me he had at least the Qd.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Blinders, I agree 100%, I would not be nearly as willing to slow play like this if I was not holding the nut flush. People always like to stay in for that draw to the nut flush with 3 on the board and just the Ace of that suit in their hand. In this case, I was hoping the guy had one high diamond in his hand, and that the flush would then hit, so I felt protected. And yes I also agree (I think I made this point in my post) that he did not play on the flop like he had flopped trips. Again I agree that I wouldn't want to play it slow if he had trips and as many as 7 outs on the turn to draw to a boat, and then 10 more outs on the river to make that same boat.

And Matt, personally I love the idea of the weak lead at this pot on the flop as well. I think in this case either checking or making the small bet would have worked to the same conclusion. My thinking was just that this particular flop was so strong, and so likely to have hit most hands who stay in to see a flop, that I didn't want to spook the guy and lose him if he had nothing and was scared of my flop bet.

On your other questions, Matt, I agree with your 35-65% split for this hand. And no, he did not have the Queen of diamonds. He really donked it here.

2:18 AM  
Blogger AnguilA said...

In a different context, say towards the end of an Mtt, with experienced players, maybe a biggish bet would work best because maybe you would induce a good player to put a play on you. In general, with that kind of flops, you have to be very concerned when it is checked or small bet (weak means strong read).
Plus I love the feeling of getting an OBFV -overbet for value- to work!

3:45 PM  
Blogger WillWonka said...

Yo Hoy,

Is there a trick to seeing your screenshots? I never can see them from work or home?

1:36 AM  

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