In part 1 of this series, I did a crash course in bluffing theory, as it relates to how often we should bluff. In this article, I’ll be talking about hand selection.
On the river, it’s important to understand (and again, this is rooted in math) that we want to value bet with our best hands (duh), and (all other things being equal) bluff with our absolute worst hands.
This doesn’t mean we need to have 7-2 offsuit to bluff. It means bluffing with the very worst of any hands we could reasonably still have in our range at that point, given the action on previous streets.
Why is this? Well, we shouldn’t be wasting our “medium-strength” hands as bluffs. Those are our check/calling hands. Those are hands that aren’t strong enough to value bet with, but can possibly win a showdown if we entice our opponent to value bet a weaker hand. (Or sometimes, we’ll induce our opponent to bluff, and we can pick off a bluff.)
Notice I didn’t define exactly what a “medium-strength” hand is here, because we’re still talking theory. But, assume it’s a hand that isn’t strong enough to value bet, but is strong enough to possibly win a showdown as a check/calling hand. What about hands that are slightly worse than these? I’ll call these our “marginal” hands. They aren’t even strong enough to check/call with. But no, we still shouldn’t be bluffing with these either. Why not?
These hands should be check/folded. It’s only our very worst hands that we bluff with. While this seems a little counter-intuitive, these “marginal” hands can occasionally win a showdown when our opponent checks the river through. So, they do have some value and it’s a shame to even waste them as a bluff.
On the river, the hands we want to bluffing with (all other things being equal) are our “absolute worst” hands. These are hands that can’t check/call and win. They are so bad they will certainly lose even if the river goes check-check. When you can’t possibly win without bluffing, you are compelled to consider that option.
You’ve probably noticed that I was careful to say “all other things being equal” twice above. That’s because in practice there is one big exception to this hierarchy of hands, and it has to do with blockers.
Occasionally you might have a “marginal” hand (by my definitions above) that has better blocker potential than one of your “absolute worst” hands. Consider the following example. Suppose you had some busted straight draws in your range. The board cards are. We won’t get into how we got to this point, but say we could be holding or . In theory, we should bluff with the (probably our “absolute worst” hand), and check the , because our “marginal” ace high could possibly win the showdown. But in this particular case, I might choose to bluff with the instead, because holding the makes it much less likely we’re going to get called, since we block the nut flush. Especially if I felt it was extremely unlikely my Ace high was going to win the showdown anyway.
In part 3, we’ll look at how to apply some of this in practice.