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Comparing and Evaluating Different Bluffing Lines

Sometimes there are different ways to try to exploit a player who folds a lot in a certain scenario, and you’re going to have to decide which way will work out the best for you. We’re going to look at the factors that determine how much value we’re getting and look at some common examples. Our goal here is to be able to evaluate bluffing strategies in an effort to decide which ones will work best in different scenarios.

The Factors That Determine Your Value

Imagine your opponent is folding a lot in some spot. There are a handful of factors that determine how much overall value you’re getting from your bluffing in that particular spot. First, there’s the size of your bluffing range. The more hands you’re bluffing overall, the more value you’re going to get out of your opponent’s tendency in that spot. Also, the size of your opponent’s range affects your overall value because a larger range by your opponent means that you’re getting into that spot more often. Your opponent’s fold frequency, rather obviously, affects your value as well.

Another factor that changes your value is how much money your opponent has put in and how much money you’re putting in relative to that. If you check/raise a player, they are putting in an extra bet that you’ll win if they fold. However, your risk is also a bit higher since you’re putting in a larger raise than if you had just bet yourself.

High-Frequency Fold Scenarios

So far in this series, we have advocated a very simple view of effective bluffing. First, we find places in our opponents’ ranges where they are folding frequently. Next, we line up our ranges in a way that we are betting weak ranges when our opponents are folding often so that we aren’t wasting too many of our good hands. That’s really all there is to it. What we’re proposing here now is that we can look at different options for successful bluffing and figure out which spots give us the most value overall.

For example, suppose there’s a raise in late position, and we call in the small blind to see a heads-up flop. Immediately, we have an opportunity to make a profitable bluff by leading the flop if we believe that our opponent will fold a lot. Now suppose our opponent continuation bets a high percentage of the time. Normally we would want to lead some weak hands to make our checking range stronger. However, if we can check/raise our opponent and get him to fold a lot as well, then we have a decision to make between leading or check/raising with a lot of our weak hands. Note that we can also make a decision to have a weak range in both spots if we so desire.

Identifying the Differences

So let’s identify some major differences between the leading and check/raising scenarios. Obviously, he may fold a different percentage of the time against our check/raises than he does our leads. However, there’s a lot more to it. First off, check/raising depends on our opponent actually making a continuation bet in this scenario. Even if he c-bets something like 75 or 80 percent of the time, that’s still 20 to 25 percent of the time that we’re not going to be able to make our bluff with our weak hands. So the check/raise is put at a disadvantage right away by the fact that our opponent’s range will be smaller after continuation betting than it is right now (ie: he continuation bets fewer hands than he has when the flop starts).

To compensate for this, one of the advantages that a check/raise could have is that the pot and bets are larger. This means that we can push smaller edges in terms of percentages to get the same absolute EV as we could if we were leading. We also get compensation in the form of chances to lead the turn as a bluff with a weak range if our opponent checks through on the flop.

Check/Raising vs. Leading

Suppose the pot is $10, and you’re out of position against a single opponent. Suppose this opponent will fold 65% of the time to a bet of $7.50. Your EV of pure bluffing here would be about $3.88. Now suppose that you check, your opponent always bets $7.50, and you raise to $22. How often does your opponent need to fold for you to have the same EV as the lead? The answer is actually about 65.5%. It’s true that you have a worse risk-reward ratio in the check/raise scenario because of the relative bet sizes. However, the larger size of the pot compensates for it almost completely in terms of absolute EV. This doesn’t tell the whole picture since your opponent won’t always be expected to bet when you check, but it’s a good place to start thinking about all of the different factors that go into your decisions.

Another Example of Alternate Lines

Another common example of two competing bluffing lines is when you face a bet out of position. Suppose you’re heads-up on the flop out of position, you check, and your opponent makes a continuation bet into you. You could raise the continuation bet as a bluff right away, or you could just call and lead the turn as a bluff instead. While the size of your opponent’s range doesn’t change when comparing the check/raise line and the call flop/lead turn line, something very important does change: The turn card comes. Also note in this line that you’re putting in both the call on the flop and the bet on the turn as the total risk for your play. This is usually going to cost at least as much as a flop raise, so not a lot changes in terms of risk and reward ratios.

Why You Should Consider Alternate Lines

One of the coolest things about taking alternate lines is that it makes it very difficult for your opponents to figure out how you play. It also makes it easier for you to continue to exploit your opponents if they adjust to how you’re playing in some specific type of scenario. For example, suppose you’re leading the flop with a weak range and your opponent stops folding so often to your leads. Now you can adjust by making your leading range strong and your checking range weak to prepare for potential check/raise bluffs. There is a lot that goes into evaluating these lines, but this kind of analysis can drastically improve your understanding of poker.

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