Betting and Bluffing [long]
What is the Purpose of Bluffing
Bluffing and betting are as fundamental to poker as it gets. Other than folding it is the main tool we have when interacting in the game. So, it is important to know why we are choosing to put money in the pot.
I: Have a reason to do what you are doing.
When you are putting money into the pot you need to make sure that there is a good logical reason to be giving your money up to fate. Once that money has left your stack it is no longer yours, it is up for grabs and you must either regain it through betting or waiting until showdown. So when we put money into the pot we should have a reason to bet – or call or raise. Ultimately there is 1 fundamental reason to put money into the pot. For value. The other reasons exist, but only in support of value. The other main reasons are to bluff and for ‘information’ which is kind of a subset of the other two.
For a moment lets imagine that that there is a fictional opponent we are facing in a heads up game. This opponent is always going to call our bets. He will never fold and will always go to showdown. This is the “Value Villain.” Or at least an extreme example of one. Against this opponent we will only bet when we believe that our hand has value. This can actually be a pretty wide range of cards if this villain will always call because he will play 100% of the cards he is dealt. To win against this player we must only bet when we have a better hand than he does, or at least a likely better hand than him.
With all that said, Value Villain will still suck out on us a lot, and we will lose some hands to him. But if we play a tight range of hands and size our bets to the relative strength of our hands then we will be hugely profitable against him.
At the low/micro stakes we see versions of Value Villain. They will not call to show down with any two cards, but will call at least 1 street if they have a draw or a pair. This is a Villain that will pay out when the hands that the Hero has are more valuable.
When we consider this Villain we need to be aware that the majority of the money we make in poker should be from value hands. We should be betting in a manner that is getting worse hands to call, it’s the best way to make money. Being able to recognize that we can get worse hands to call is important as you grind your way out of the micro’s.
Now lets imagine a different opponent. This opponent will always fold whenever we bet. He will enter every hand but will then fold as soon as the hero bets. This villain will only get to the showdown if he is never bet into. While this villain will never pay more than the BB, he will do so consistently. This is the Weak Villain. He will lay down all of his better hands.
This villain will never suck out and will only ever lose money, he folds too much.
This should help illustrate that bluffing gives us less value than betting for value. We will never win big pots if we are bluffing a lot, because we are likely only driving weak players off of small pots. Once the pot gets big it is important to have a feel for the strength of the hand that you have.
This is the worst reason to bet. You are betting because you want to be able to define better the range that your opponent has. Lets look at the above examples, no amount of betting will give you any information on either Value Villain or Weak Villain. Their actions are predetermined. While no villain is that predictable, they are certainly somewhat predictable. If someone plays too tight and weak betting won’t give you information, other than that they called or folded. A call likely means they have something, but you don’t know what. Betting for information is dangerous because you have already put money into the pot and the information that you have gotten is likely to be unreliable.
Betting for information should be a secondary consideration to the other reasons that you are betting.
D: Application of these Concepts.
When we are playing it is rarely against only Value Villain or Weak Villain. Mostly it is against a range of opponents with a range of hands.
Because betting for value is our primary reason for betting we should be using bluffing as a tool to help us build our value from our better hands. Against a nuanced opponent it is important that they believe we are capable of bluffing. If they are not aware it’s something we can do, then they will likely not pay us off when we have value hands.
The ultimate question that we need to ask ourselves when we are betting is this:
Will worse hands call or will better hands fold?
If we bet in a situation where it is unlikely that better hands will fold or worse hands call then we have just made a poor choice.
The question is highly villain dependent. Against a Value Villain it is important that we realize a better hand is likely never folding. Against a Weak Villain it is important we know a worse hand is never calling.
Against an unknown opponent it is better to assume that they are (1) not bluffing when they bet and (2) that they are likely never folding a better hand.
At the low stakes those are the fundamental principles you should apply. If you are betting for value and playing a tight range then you should be able to win.
Against more challenging opponents, or opponents who will adjust to the fact that you are only betting for value and folding to your bets, you can begin to introduce bluffs more often. In general people are making this adjustment too quickly and too often when they do not have the information on their opponent to do so.
Play tight and primarily bet for value. Betting to bluff is useful in support of your value plays and to punish people who have adjusted to your tight betting and value raises.