Advanced Poker Technique: Representing Top Pair

Jonathan Duhamel. Robyn Beck / AFP

Not too long ago in this space, we unveiled one of the most important advanced moves in the poker arsenal: the naked bluff. It’s an advanced move because players should ideally use this bluff only in specific situations where your opponent is likely to have a very wide range of hands; otherwise, the ratio of risk to reward is just not worth it. 
 
Here’s another advanced bluffing technique to consider in these spots: attacking with top-pair blockers. This is a subset of the naked bluff, where you don’t have a lot of equity in your hand should your opponent decide not to fold. But unlike all those Ace-rag hands we suggested bluffing within Texas Hold’em, that smidge of overcard equity isn’t why this move is profitable – it’s the blocker effect, which makes your opponent even more likely to muck their hand. 

Nutter Butters

Before we get into this specific move, let’s take a moment to recall what makes a good bluff: It represents strength instead of weakness. Say you’re back at the Hold’em table, your opponent opens from an early position, and you call from the big blind. The flop comes Ts-7s-6c. This is a very good spot for you to bluff since your opponent probably has overcards and you’re the one more likely to have paired on this board. 
 
That doesn’t mean you want to be bluffing too often. Your opponent already represents a strong range opening from an early position; they could still have pocket Tens for top set, pocket Jacks through Aces, Ace-Ten, and suited Tens from King down to Nine – maybe even Ten-Eight suited. But you’re more likely to have Nine-Eight (including the 12 unsuited combos) in this situation. You have the nut advantage, and if you don’t have the straight, you should be able to bluff profitably if you have either a Nine or an Eight in your hand. 
 
This spot gets even better if you have some additional equity to go along with your straight blocker. Maybe you called with Queen-Nine suited; if they’re Spades, you have a flush draw, and if they’re Clubs, you have a backdoor flush draw. You can also make a straight with an Eight, of course, but that’s a “dumb” straight that your opponent can easily outdraw, and Jack-Nine suited already has you beat. Good thing flushes are better than straights. 

It’s Hard to Make a Pair 

Now let’s change things up slightly and have your opponent open from a late position instead of early. With such a wider range of hands, you should be able to expand your bluffing range significantly. That means you can bluff with less equity and/or fewer blockers in your hand. 
 
Identifying which cards to bluff with is key. There are those Ace-high naked bluffs we mentioned previously, but when it comes to blockers, you’re no longer limited to straight blockers in this example – you can also block the top pair if you have either a Jack or a Nine in your hand. This makes it less likely that your opponent will have either Jack-Ten or Ten-Nine and more likely that they’ll fold. 
 
In this case, having a Nine pulls double duty as a straight blocker and top-pair blocker. The Jack is still pretty nice, though. And once again, maybe you’ve got some additional equity to back you up. This bluff may be advanced but remember: It’s not rocket science. You just have to see the opportunity when it arises, so stay focused, execute the game plan, and may the rectangles be with you.