The wisdom in online draw regarding bluff is — don’t! That’s because you get called too often in most situations to make bluffing profitable.
Some theorize that you ought to bluffMichael Wiesenberg made his living playing poker for 10 years before turning to a career as a writer. His books include 'Free Money: How to Win in the Cardrooms of California'; 'The Dictonary of Poker', and 'The Ultimate Casino Guide. Check out his writings on everything online draw poker!
once in awhile to keep your opponents calling. If you don’t bluff, they won’t call when you’ve got the goods. That’s just not true. Probably the biggest mistake that most low-limit online draw players make is call too much. And low-limit is what most of the online draw games are. You don’t have to bluff when you miss because in most situations in which you make a hand you’ll get called no matter what your image. So advertising is not necessary. A typical hand shows that.
MistaGayn limps on the button in a $2-$4 game. The small blind folds and RaisinRay raises on the big blind. MistaGayn calls. RaisinRay draws three cards and MistaGayn draws one. After the draw, RaisinRay checks and MistaGayn immediately bets. RaisinRay calls and MistaGayn shows down a busted flush. MistaGayn made two, possibly three mistakes on this hand. The first is opening on the button with a come hand. The best odds MistaGayn could possibly be getting in this situation is if the small blind calls and the big blind does not raise, both blinds check after the draw, MistaGayn makes his hand, bets, and one of them calls. So for his $2 investment, MistaGayn makes $8, or 4-to-1. Now that’s the best, and all he’s getting is 4-to-1 as approximately a 5-to-1 underdog. If you constantly get less of a return than the odds against your making the hand, you lose a lot of money. The second mistake is bluffing when he missed the hand. This is not a good bluffing situation. MistaGayn limped and drew one card. Since most players raise-open with two pair, he probably opened with a come hand. RaisinRay knows this and also knows that MistaGayn bluffs too much so he always calls in this situation. The possible third mistake is that MistaGayn bet his missed hand immediately when checked to. He usually hesitates when he makes a complete hand because he thinks that way he can entice his opponent into making a call. MistaGayn is not sophisticated enough to realize that he should bet the same when bluffing as when he made his hand, and that if he consistently bets differently in the two situations, he’s telegraphing his hand.
(Yes, sticklers, there are better situations for MistaGayn; the preceding are not necessarily the best odds he could be getting. Both players could pass and then both call after the draw. One of them could bet with less than a complete hand and then call a raise. Those times are offset by two things, however. One is that, as we’ve seen, MistaGayn bluffs too much. What he loses in those bluffs more than offsets the extra he wins in the situations that involve his winning more than $8 after the draw. Another offsetting instance is those times he makes his hand and the hand loses. When that happens, he often loses four big bets after the draw.)
In another situation, PlayEmAll limps in early position. RaisinRay raises. RaisinRay hardly ever plays a pot without raising. That is, if he’s in, it’s for a raise. If someone limps, and RaisinRay has what he considers a playing hand, he raises. If RaisinRay is first, he opens for a raise. Jeff43210 comes in for the two bets and PlayEmAll calls. On the draw, PlayEmAll takes one card, RaisinRay takes three, and Jeff43210 takes three. PlayEmAll checks, RaisinRay checks, and Jeff43210 bets. PlayEmAll calls and RaisinRay folds. (If RaisinRay had a hand with which he could overcall a one-card draw that called after passing, he would already have bet, so clearly he did not improve. That is, he could never in this situation have a hand with which he could overcall.) Jeff43210 shows two jacks and PlayEmAll takes the pot with two small pair, 4s and 2s. PlayEmAll just made a ridiculous bluff. He could not have had the best hand. If PlayEmAll had folded, RaisinRay, who knows that Jeff43210 bluffs too much, would have called. Was that a bluff?, you may wonder. After all, a bluff is usually made on a hand with nothing. Could that have been a value bet? No, it could not have been a value bet because there is no chance that Jeff43210 had the best hand. RaisinRay had to have better than a pair of jacks. PlayEmAll is weak and often limps on two pair, calls a raise, and then passes to the raiser.
Okay, so the preceding are situations that show that bluffs rarely succeed. One thing the two examples have in common is that these pots were raised before the draw. Here’s a common one that doesn’t involve a before-the-draw raise.
PlayEmAll limps. Jeff43210 calls. MistaGayn calls. RaisinRay has the big blind and does not raise. First to draw, RaisinRay takes four cards. PlayEmAll and Jeff43210 take three each. MistaGayn takes two cards. (Hint: MistaGayn does not have trips. He would have raised two limpers if he did. Everyone know that MistaGayn does not have trips. He likely has a pair with an ace kicker. He may be going for a cathop — three cards to a straight or flush or to a straight-flush. But he does not have trips.) RaisinRay and PlayEmAll check. Jeff43210 bets, reasoning that since RaisinRay took four cards and passed, he can’t have a hand, and since PlayEmAll took three and passed, he can’t have improved, thus they’re likely to call, and MistaGayn is easy to bluff since he didn’t start with much of a hand. MistaGayn folds. RaisinRay folds. PlayEmAll calls. Jeff43210 shows a pair of tens, and PlayEmAll takes it with a pair of aces. It’s not at all clear why Jeff43210 bet. He seems to belong to the school of close your eyes and bet — randomly. PlayEmAll, being a weak player, neither raise-opens with aces nor does he bet them after the draw. But he definitely calls. This is why a bluff in this pot is futile. If the bet succeeds, it’s because no one could beat a pair of tens anyway. But if someone can, the bet will be called.
I can cite a lot more situations in which bluffing is a waste of money, because someone is sure to call. So, given that, when can you bluff successfully? Remember, a bluff has a positive expectation only if it succeeds more often than the odds being offered indicate. For example, if the pot holds $8, you’re getting 2-to-1 if a $4 bluff succeeds. This means you need to be successful just a bit over one third of the time to profit. Here’s why. The situation comes up three times. Two times you lose and one time you win. In the two unsuccessful times, you lose $8, and in the one successful bluff you win $8. That’s break-even. Anything more than a third, though, and you profit. This is not usually the case, though. In most situations — especially those I described earlier — you’ll get called more than two-thirds of the time.
But I can demonstrate a few situations in which you’ll get called considerably less.
Here’s one. Jeff43210 limps. MistaGayn and SuiteJudyBE call. RaisinRay has the big blind and does not raise. First to draw, RaisinRay takes three cards. He is drawing to A-K, hoping to pair one of those cards because he figures that by doing so he will end up with better than any of the others started with. If he does make a pair of aces or kings, he’ll be a favorite to win the pot with just that one pair. Jeff43210 takes three cards and MistaGayn and SuiteJudyBE each draws one. RaisinRay knows that Jeff43210 often opens light and that with a three-card draw, he’ll help less than 30 percent of the time — and thus be unable to call a bet more than 70 30 percent of the time. MistaGayn and SuiteJudyBE are drawing to straights and flushes. (Either would have raised with two pair or trips.) Either will make the hand less than 20 percent of the time. In the $2-$4 game, the pot currently holds $8.75 (including small blind and subtracting the drop). RaisinRay has ended up with the same ace-high he started with. He bets $4. He is putting the squeeze on Jeff43210 because Jeff43210 cannot call unless he improves. If either MistaGayn or SuiteJudyBE makes a complete hand, he or she will raise and RaisinRay simply throws the hand away without ever having to show it. This is good, because RaisinRay may try the same bluff again in the same situation. (He doesn’t always bluff in this situation, although he frequently does, particularly if he hasn’t been caught bluffing recently.) RaisinRay wins whenever none of his opponents helps. This occurs (0.72 x 0.82 x 0.82 = 0.484) of the time. That is, RaisinRay had to win slightly less than one third — maybe 30 percent — of the time to profit, but he actually wins nearly 48 percent of the time. That’s profitable.
Here’s a better situation. MistaGayn limps on the button. RaisinRay has the big blind and does not raise. First to draw, RaisinRay takes three cards. He is drawing to A-K, as before. MistaGayn draws three. RaisinRay does not improve and bets. He is betting $4 to win $4.75 (after the drop; this counts the small blind). He has to get away with this bluff less than half the time to profit. But MistaGayn will call only if he improves, which happens only about 29 percent of the time. But, you protest, MistaGayn might have started with a pair of aces or kings — mightn’t he call with that hand without improving? Nope. MistaGayn raise-opens on the button with any pair jacks or higher.
Good bluffing situations don’t come up often in online draw, but when they do, they succeed often enough to be profitable and do not at all need to be part of your “advertising budget.”
This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine. © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.