Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Clever Bluff

One of the smartest Seventh Street plays I’ve witnessed occurred in a three-way hand in which I had a lock on the low-pot, against two players vying for the high-pot. On Fifth and Sixth Streets the action began with Player 1, showing a high-hand on the board, who checked to Player 2, who checked to me. I bet and both players called. But on Seventh Street, Player 1 checked, and Player 2, who appeared to be on some sort of draw, bet. I raised because I thought Player 1, who clearly had the best hand all along, would call. But, Player 1, who did not want to get jammed by Player 2 and me, folded. I split the pot with Player 2 who had a high hand that could not have beat the high-hand Player 1 showed on the board. Player 2 said to me: “I was hoping that you would raise.”

Of course, I would not have raised had I known Player 1’s response would be to fold. Who won the high pot made no difference to me, I just wanted the pot to be as big as possible and driving Player 1 out reduced my winnings. Had Player 1 called the raise it would have increased my winnings. It is always difficult predicting your opponent’s response.

However, Player 2’s bluff was a smart play. In limit poker it is difficult to pull off successful bluffs late in the hand because the pot is usually large in relation to the cost of the single bet needed to call. Had Player 1 and 2 been heads-up, or playing high-only Seven-Card Stud, the bluff would not have worked. But, with me in between them holding the power to cap raises with no risk to myself, Player 1 had to consider the possibility of calling four large bets before showdown, which is a significant cost. By manipulating my action in the way that Player 2 did, he essentially used one bet to make a four-bet bluff. That is leverage not available in no-limit games in which a bluff with say an amount equal to half the pot, requires a bet equal to half the pot. Player 2 made a clever play that must have high expected value.

This events of this hand also illustrate the dangers inherent in playing a one-way high-hand in a situation in which everyone knows that it is a one-way high-hand. Player 1 did not bet, or check-raise my bets for two reasons. First he needed Player 2 to stay in order to make any money at all. Second, I would certainly re-raise, and Player 1 did not want to be heads-up against me for a huge pot, because I might be freerolling. The net result was that Player 1 was trapped into tentative play. He wanted Player 2 in the hand, but he did not want to be outdrawn for the high-pot. He wanted a large pot because he can only win half, but not too large because he might get scooped. He repeatedly checked and called, hoping for the best, but in the end was run off the pot by the more aggressive players.

If Player 1 had had a one-way high-hand with appearances of possibly qualifying for the low-pot, it would have discouraged Player 2 from trying his bluff, and caused me to think more carefully about raising given that I might not have a lock on the low-pot.