Not comfortable with bluffing in No Limit Hold’em

by ~ December 20th, 2008. Filed under: Fold equity, aggression and bluffing.


* Modified December 31st, 2008 *

Again with poker aggression topics. 🙂

A relatively inexperienced poker player asked the question what to do about the fact that she is not comfortable with the bluffing involved in No Limit Hold’em poker. She says that she’s comfortable with the mathematics of odds, and she finds herself more comfortable with other poker games other than No Limit. But she doesn’t feel comfortable trying to make people fold with air. And she gets tilted when people show their bluffs and then rub it in.

Now, she is a beginner, meaning that she’s playing at low stakes. The freeroll/penny tournament/penny cash tables are rife with players who play for that kind of stuff. They see plays made on TV (highlights only, usually) and they get juiced when they can bully someone into folding. Imagine a guy, beer in hand, empties on the floor, watching boxing highlights on the TV while playing poker online. A stereotype perhaps, but maybe not so far off base in many cases.

There are serious beginners who read a lot of poker books like Harrington or Gordon‘s books but play the low level online games knowing that they should get experience before moving up. They need to keep in mind that low level online games can be extreme within one table and also within the range of how any one individual player might play. Extreme meaning players may be raising or limping with monsters or absolute crap, and one player may raise AT early in a tournament but limp JJ when the blinds rise. In a freeroll or cheap tournament you can get players pushing all in preflop with anything from suited Aces, small pairs or big Aces (AK/AQ) or big pairs. And the chat box is a minefield of crap with players quoting their latest poker saying they’ve heard or what their friends said to them.

But in terms of playing poker, playing aggressively is a necessity. At the same time, controlled aggression is not all about making people fold with the best hand all the time. It’s about

  1. Betting when you are ahead, such as raising to protect your good hand preflop so less strange poor hands see the flop, or postflop, betting a good hand to get value, especially if there are draws. This makes the pot bigger when you are ahead and if done properly gives your opponents incorrect odds to draw out on you. You want to have some confidence that you’re ahead with your AK when the flop comes A72 and A2/A7/72 made a mistake by calling your preflop raise because most of the time, other than with this flop, you’re going to win. Or, in a hand with a flush draw you want to make sure that you make your opponent pays to see the rest of the cards. Most of the time the flush is not going to get there and if you don’t bet then it’s your own fault for not doing something to charge them to see the remaining cards.
  2. Utilizing fold equity by betting at pots that no one seems interested in, or by challenging your opponent when you represented strength earlier and you may very well still have the best hand (c-betting a missed flop), or when you think that your opponent has a marginal hand and you can get them to fold if you represent a bigger hand or put pressure on them. You may have a draw yourself and the bet could get you a free card, or disguise your hand when you get the card that you were looking for (semibluff).

The bullies are banking on fold equity. They want to gamble, they want to take risks, they want to push people around.

Now, in a tournament setting when you have a big stack you are supposed to pressure your opponents, to make them choose not to play. Mathematically this is the correct play no matter whether your opponents are weak players, aggressive players, thinking players, your friend, it doesn’t matter. You have the chips, they can’t afford to play very often. Those blinds belong to you because you can afford to buy them, just like the Monopoly player with more houses and cash than anyone else. This really is a situation of “nothing personal”.

I suppose at this point this post could take one of two directions. Either look at how to play bullies at low level cash games or early in tournaments, or look at various aspects of fold equity.

Or, I could end it here and look at these directions in separate posts.

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1 Response to Not comfortable with bluffing in No Limit Hold’em

  1. Poker Farce

    There is a huge difference between aggression and bluffing, so I like the 2 points you laid out here.

    I think the next step for a beginner would be to learn when to make continuation bets on flops that are of no help…and when to check it. You probably can’t make a final table without playing these situations well, because they are bound to come up, even if you are sticking to the nuts pre-flop and using a “no-bluffing” strategy.

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