If you happen to have an overly aggressive image, either due to running lots of bluffs or just being dealt a lot of premium hands, you may look across the table and see one of your opponents glaring at you. When you spot someone giving you “the look,” you can be fairly confident they are going to make a play at you sometime in the near future, either because they assume you are playing ranges that are much too wide, or perhaps they are trying to “get even” against you.
Knowing they are going to attack you ahead of time can turn normally easy folds into easy calls. But you also need to be sure to give that particular opponent the opportunity to bluff you. If you pile the money in against them, they will be forced to fold their marginal hands and bluffs, so if you make any sort of made hand, you should instead be confident going into check-call mode.
In a recent $1,000 buy-in tournament, I was playing my standard loose, aggressive strategy, although I was never too far out of line. A young player across the table was giving me “the look” even though we had not played a hand together. I raised with a random hand, made a continuation bet, and took down a small pot.
On the very next hand, with the blinds at 300-600 with 34,000 effective stacks, I raised to 1,400 with J 9 from the button. The kid, who was in the small blind, three-bet to 3,400. Seeing how I was getting decent odds to call and thought my opponent easily could be making a play, I called with the intention of calling down if I hit a decent flop. It is worth noting that if I thought my opponent was playing sanely, I would have easily folded.
The flop came J 6 2, giving me top pair. My opponent bet 4,600 and I called.
At this point, I could be either way ahead or way behind, but I am never folding top pair when I think my opponent’s range is wide open. Raising does not make much sense because he will fold most of his junk (which should be a large portion of his range) and call with all better hands that beat me.
The turn was the 6, pairing the board. He bet 7,000 and I called.
The same logic on the flop applies on the turn. If he has a better hand, he will always call a raise. If I raise, I will force him to fold all of his bluffs, which I keep in his range by calling. Whenever you have a strong, but non-nut hand, your main concern is keeping your opponent’s range as wide as possible.
The river was the 8, and he quickly bet 7,600 out of his 18,000 remaining stack.
When players throw out a really fast bet on the river, it usually means that they had planned on betting regardless of what card came up. Since his range should be made up of mostly bluffs, plus a few nut hands, I made the call and beat his A 3.
Notice that if I raised the flop or turn, he would have most likely folded (unless he was an absolute maniac). The optimal line in these situations is to simply call down. If I had a stronger hand like pocket aces, I still would have taken the call down line. I would not raise the river, because again, he will usually only call when I am beat.
By playing your marginal, made hands passively, you keep all the bluffs in your opponent’s range while making it impossible for him to bluff you. You also make it tough for your opponent to get a lot of value when he actually makes a premium hand because you never put in a raise.
The next time you face someone who is likely to have too many bluffs in their range, take this line and allow them to bluff off their stack. ♠
Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.