– When is the best time to be creative and how to choose the right moments for bluffs?
– Bluffs are an integral part of the game, and they have nothing to do with creativity. It's all about risk and reward. Moderate risk can bring a decent reward. An obvious example is that after a bluff on the flop, you will often bet a second barrel on the turn, but on the river, you will already be very careful in choosing the right situation. If an opponent has paid on the flop and turn, they often don't fold at all on the river. This, by the way, is the main difference between plus and minus players. Strong players are able to reevaluate the situation on each street and calmly fold on the river, regardless of the action on the early streets. And weak players often convince themselves: "I called on the flop and turn, now it would be foolish to fold." This is a dangerous delusion.
Players who work in solvers know that the decision to fold or not on the river often depends on the sizing of the opponent. The more he bets, the worse our pot odds will be and the fewer hands in his range will be worth calling.
In a heads-up pot against the big blind, it's profitable for us to frequently bluff small c-bets even on a flop that doesn't hit us. Something in the region of 25-33%. For example, with we still c-bet on the board , since the board often won't work for our opponent either, and we need to defend against hands like 87o or Q7o, which are definitely in his calling range. The best time to bluff on the turn is when a scary card comes or when we have a strong draw. With on the same board, we can easily fire a second barrel, since the opponent will fold many underpairs or with which the flop called. With a flush draw or open-ended, we don't need much fold equity at all. Again, I'm a fairly active bluffer on the flop and turn, but very cautious on the river, even if I have great blockers.
– Tell us about the worst situations for bluffing?
– When an opponent thinks he has a lot of strong hands in his range, especially on the boards when full houses, flushes, or straights are possible. For example, on the board we will often see snap calls from hands like or 95s because, in general, trips are a good hand in hold'em. But it all depends on the draw. If there was a bet on the flop, check on the turn, and bet again on the river, then this is a fairly easy call since the opponent can bet for value with or against our weak or . And if he check-raised on the flop, bet the turn, and shoved the river, then our 95s, K9s, and A9s don't look so attractive anymore.
Again, it's all about the level of the players. The weak will say to himself: “Well, I have trips, how can I throw it away?” This is another very dangerous way of thinking. Such players do not know how to assess the relative strength of the hands and do not take into account the action on previous streets and the structure of the board. In this particular example, Villain could draw with a straight or could semi-bluff and hit a backdoor flush, or had two pair on the flop that improved to a full house. There are few bluffs in his range and too many hands that beat us. All this suggests that our trips are not suitable for the word "absolutely". At the mid and low stakes, players definitely won't fold trips in this situation, so I will never bluff and I'm unlikely to show anything worse than a straight at showdown. In $5,000+ tournaments online where there are more players of my level, I naturally will alter my play a bit.
– Many players have difficulty with bluff catching. What is worth paying attention to here? What role do blockers play?
– The first thing I ask myself is: “How suitable is this situation for a bluff?” These are boards with a lot of missed draws. Let's say the board is . The opponent may have , , , 76s, 65s, A3s or A5s. On such a board, it is easy to call even three barrels with or .
A board like is much worse for bluffs, and here you already need to take into account blockers. Definitely not worth bluffing if you have a , or , as they block Villain's folding range. This includes pairs from to , weak A-highs like A8s and A9s that we could get called on the flop and turn (I'm not saying it's a good call, but that's how it's played). Hands type or block strong , which could slowplay, or overpairs ( , ), which were not reraised preflop.
These examples show that such situations require a deep understanding of poker, especially blockers. Therefore, many players have great problems choosing the right hands for bluffing.
In general, the board is also unsuitable for bluffing because many weak players will call with something like just out of curiosity. They find it hard to believe that you can have trips or even aces.
How does your approach to bluffing change at the final tables?
– It is noticeable, and in both directions. With a larger stack, there will be more situations suitable for aggression and bluffs, since opponents must fold more often. But there is a trap in this "should" too. There is a huge difference between what people should do and what they actually do. If it seems to you that you have found a situation in which the opponent must always fold, it is not at all a fact that this will actually happen. And such miscalculations can be very costly.
For example, you are the chip leader and you defended the big blind against a player with a 30BB stack. The flop is where you plan to check-raise a bluff or shove the flop, bet the turn, and shove the river. This is a terrible board for a player who opens from early position or middle. Because of the short stacks, your opponent has to check his entire range, he doesn't have a single hand he wants to stack with.
The chip leader has a huge advantage in the nuts, he can have almost all 6x here – 76o, T6s, J6s, and so on. Since he has more trips, this is a good spot to bluff in. But the middle stack will still have to fold overpairs on later streets if the big blind shoves. True, this is only in theory. In practice, inexperienced players will almost never fold an overpair here. Therefore, it is worth forgetting about the GTO and not bluffing at all. It is much more profitable to play an exploit and print money with trips against the overpairs of weak players. But a lot depends on the opponents. If your opponent understands ICM and board dynamics well, and understands the advantage of ranges, then a bluff against him can be justified.
Sizings are also of great importance in ICM. In the early stages of the tournament, we often use big bets and overbets on the river. And in ICM, we have to value the chips, so we switch to bets of 33%, 50%, or 66%. But on the final table, even small bets put players in a very difficult position, especially in wide ranges – SB against BB or in late positions against the blinds. A 2/3 pot bet can equal half of your opponent's stack, and that's without taking into account ICM pressure.
The basis of final table play is wise chip handling and careful choice of opponents for moves. A bet of 25% might terrify an inexperienced player with a 10 blind stack, but will not impress an opponent with a 50bb stack. Don't forget these moments.