Responding to the Bluffer in poker

Oct 13, 2009 5:10 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein | We received some fascinating responses to our column, "Is he bluffing or not?" from a few weeks ago. Five of these deserve special consideration; each will be awarded the prize, a copy of the Hold’em Algorithm.

Reviewing the situation

Alberto, in middle position in a $3-$6 limit hold’em game, raised pre-flop with K-Q. The flop, Q-10-5 rainbow, gave him top pair. The big blind and limper checked, and Alberto bet; he was called (no raises) by the button and limper. Then the turn was an ace, giving Alberto cause for concern. The limper promptly bet $6. Looking to his left, Alberto observed the button preparing to call or perhaps raise. He figured that at least one of his opponents had a pair of aces or better. On that basis, the pot odds and card odds were not favorable. So Alberto folded. Showdown: The limper had just a pair of 10s and the button, pocket jacks. Alberto had been bluffed out. Could he have avoided it? Of the five best responses, four suggested that Alberto should have raised the limper on the turn after the ace fell. The other suggested Alberto should have just called it down. I happen to disagree with all of them with one proviso. Here are their suggestions and my comments.

Dealing with the Bluffer

Addressing his comments to Alberto, Robert Aerenson of Wilmington, Delaware, advocated: "Raise the $6 at the showing of the ace. You raised pre-flop; bet the flop. You could have had A-Q. You represented a strong hand and even a weak ace would have to fold to your raise. You would find out where you are if he re-pops you; but most likely (you would) take the pot down unless you are against two-pair or a slow-played set!" Likewise, to counter the bluff, Debbie Fineberg of Burbank, California, "would have raised the limper on the turn … A good player would fold the jacks and tens to a raise." (She assumes that both opponents were "good players.") Dave Desabota of San Pedro, California, had a similar response, and offered advice: "Timid play doesn’t cut it in hold’em." Shannon Ballog of Las Vegas also recommended raising on the turn. All of these have merit – in hindsight, but there’s more to it.

Should Alberto have raised the limper on the turn?

Knowing that Alberto had raised pre-flop and opened the betting on the flop, betting out on the turn after the ace fell, the limper either had a strong hand – a pair of aces or better – or was bluffing. But the button’s apparent imminent call (or raise) could hardly be regarded as a bluff. (Actually, with six outs, he had card odds of 7-to-1, a borderline calling hand.) Putting him on a range of hands, the most likely would have beaten Alberto’s queens. Based on the information given, I believe Alberto was wise to fold on the turn. With the pre-flop limper betting out when the ace fell on the turn, and the button preparing to call or raise, Alberto had to assume his pair of queens almost certainly was second-best or worse. Then, considering his unfavorable poker odds, Alberto wisely decided to fold rather than invest two or three more big bets. In my opinion, Alberto should call or raise only if (1) the pre-flop limper was a deceptive/tricky player who judged Alberto a timid player, and (2) the button was a very loose player. (In fact, Alberto is not timid. His aggressive play helped him win first prize in our Charity Poker Tournament to raise funds for the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center.) Keep in mind: Sometimes good players do get bluffed out.

We appreciate the responses from all those who took the trouble to write us. Hope you are enjoying this column – and learning to be a better (happier) hold’em player as a result.

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