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NLHE Foundations #02: Basic No-Limit Hold’em Bluffing Analysis

NLHE Foundations #02: Basic No-Limit Hold’em Bluffing Analysis

NLHE Foundations Course

This is the second lesson in the free No-Limit Hold’em foundations course, and all you have to do to sign up is create an account (if you haven’t already) and post in the forum thread I just linked to saying you want in. I’ll add you to a private message list and send you updates on the course and get to know you a bit so that you can ask me questions directly if you’d like.

Introduction

In the first lesson, we learned how to count hole card combinations in no-limit hold’em. For this lesson, we’re going to use what we learned about hand combinations to learn how to analyze bluffs.

Finding the Fold Frequency

If we want to know how often we think someone is folding, we need to perform the following steps:

  1. Estimate the person’s total range and folding range as best we can.
  2. Find the total number of hand combinations for that range.
  3. Find the number of combinations for the hands that we believe are folding.
  4. Divide the number of hand combos he’s folding by the total hand combos he could have.

Again, I want to stress the importance of the fact that we’re not going to be trying to think through all of this at the tables. Instead, this is for analysis away from the tables. You’re going to do a lot of this type of analysis in your study, and that will help you to build a feel for it at the table so that complicated calculations aren’t necessary when you’re actually playing.

A Simple Example

In full-ring no-limit hold’em games, early position opening ranges are pretty tight. Suppose Villain opens with {77+, AQ+, KQ} from early position, and we hold As7s. It folds to us on the button, and we put in a 3-bet. Suppose that we expect our opponent to fold everything but {QQ+, AK}. What is our opponent’s fold frequency?

We don’t need to estimate the ranges since they’re given to us for this example. We do need to find the hand combinations for all of his hands, though. Remember that we hold As7s. That gives us the following:

77(3), 88(6), 99(6), TT(6), JJ(6), QQ(6), KK(6), AA(3), AK(12), AQ(12), KQ(16)

That’s 82 total combinations, and Villain is folding all but QQ(6), KK(6), AA(3), AK(12), which is 27 combos. That means Villain is folding 55 total combinations.

To find his fold frequency, we divide 55 by 82 to get 0.67, which is 67 percent. That means our opponent is folding 67 percent to our 3-bet.

How to Know if the Bluff is Profitable?

I’m going to start you guys out with a shortcut that will help you to determine if a pure bluff is profitable assuming that you never win the hand unless your opponent folds. Later, we’re going to get a little more detailed with looking at semi-bluffing and multi-way pots and things like that, but for now, this will suffice to get you started in the right direction.

Divide your bet (or raise) size by what the size of the total pot is after you put in the bet (or raise). If your opponent’s folding frequency is higher than this, then the bluff is profitable.

So in the example we gave above, suppose Villain raised to 3x and we 3-bet him to 10x from the button. We’re making a bluff for 10bb, and the pot is going to be 14.5bb after we make that bluff. Divide 10 by 14.5 to get 69 percent. We would need our opponent’s folding frequency to be higher than 69 percent for our bluff to be profitable in a vacuum. Since it’s only 67 percent (as we found above), our bluff would not be profitable in a vacuum.

Note: This doesn’t take into account what happens if our opponent calls and we see a flop, so it’s well within the possibility that we would be able to eek out a small profit from this play. However, it won’t be profitable in a vacuum without taking into account future streets, and that’s what we’re finding with this shortcut.

Putting Opponents on Ranges

Something we need to point out here is that you’re going to be estimating your opponent’s ranges when we do this analysis on real hands. Along these lines, an important skill that you’re going to have to work on over time is actually putting your opponents on accurate ranges based on stats, reads and other information that you have about the hand.

A big theme that we’re going to be following in our work in this series is starting out by putting your opponent on a range so that you can see what you’re working with. A lot of discussion should center around whether or not certain hands in the range make sense. We’re going to be working on this a lot over the next few lessons, so don’t think that you have to be perfect at this right away or something.

Exercises

We have one exercise this week, though you can do more if you’d like. What I want you to do is find a hand you’ve played where you made a bluff with just one other person left in the hand. I want you to analyze this bluff by putting your opponent on a range, estimating his fold frequency and using the shortcut I offered above to decide if that bluff was profitable in a vacuum. If you don’t have hands that you have played, then steal one from the SSNL forum. Post your hand analysis in this forum thread.

Jesse Eddleman is a gambling writer with over ten years of experience in the industry, and he has written for FlopTurnRiver.com and many other top online portals. You can learn more about him at http://www.potentialeight.com/.

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