Lucky bluff works out for poker writer

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A well-known professional poker guru recently wrote a column published in the Sunday, Los Angeles Times newspaper. In a no-limit hold’em tournament, he described a hand he bluffed against a 50-year-old opponent, whom he had evaluated as “somewhat loose and passive… (and) seemed to overvalue most of his premium hands.” For convenience, let’s call him John.

On the Button, holding 9-5 spades in the hole, our guru limped to see the flop, along with John and both Blinds. His reasoning: While his starting-hand was “fairly weak,” it did have post-flop possibilities. (Very poor possibilities, I would say.)

Undoubtedly, he was an underdog at that point; personally, I would have folded. His hand certainly did not satisfy the Hold’em Algorithm starting-hand criteria, even allowing for his excellent position on the Button.

The flop came down Q-7-6 with two more of his spades, giving guru a flush draw and a gutshot straight draw. Lots of outs – 12 in all, giving him great card odds (1.2-to-1 against making his hand on the turn or the river).

The two Blinds checked to John, the 50-year-old in a middle position. He bet 600 into a pot of 1,025. At that point, guru raised to 1,600 to build the pot in case he completed one of his two draws. In that case, after he connected, with so many chips already in the pot, guru reasoned he could expect to get paid off on a sizable bet on the subsequent betting rounds. Both Blinds folded. Thereupon, John, presumed by guru to be a “loose-passive” player who tended to “overvalue most of his premium hands,” thought a few seconds, and then called guru’s raise.

The turn was the 10 of hearts. Guru’s remaining opponent quickly bet 600 into the 4,225 pot. (Would you say this was the act of a “passive” player, just after guru had made a big raise on the flop? This made me wonder if our guru might be mistaken in his evaluation of that player).

In any case, guru put him on “something like K-Q, 7-6, or perhaps three of a kind.” That seems reasonable. In that case, guru was way behind; unless he caught one of his draws, he could only win by bluffing. He decided to raise to 3,000, representing a premium made hand; John quickly called.

The river was the 3 of diamonds – probably a blank. John checked. “To steal this pot,” guru explained, “I would need to make a bet that my opponent could simply not justify calling.” Thereupon, guru went all-in for 20,175 – nearly twice the pot size. John thought a long time. At one point, he counted out his chips as if he were about to call. Meanwhile guru “remained stoic,” presumably to avoid making any tells. Eventually, John folded, revealing 10-7 suited in the hole, two-pair! “What a relief!” – guru ended his column.

It seems guru won the pot by using the power of a huge bet to bluff out his one remaining opponent on the river. Would he have succeeded were it a limit game where the last bet would have been substantially smaller? Apparently, guru was not familiar with the Esther Bluff tactic (reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse tell) that permits a bluffer to get into his opponent’s mind and convince him he is up against a much stronger hand than his own. Undoubtedly, it would have helped his big bluff immensely. It takes much more skill to bluff in a limit game.

What’s your opinion? Email me at [email protected] A prize for the best response.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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