What makes a “good” poker game? It all depends on what you want. For some, it’s the thrill of competing against the world’s best, either in an epic tournament setting or at the cash tables. For others, it’s competing against the worst of the worst – and taking their money.
This article is for the people in the former camp. If you’re grinding the lower stakes for profit, especially at the live tables, you’ll do just fine using a simplified strategy that focuses on value betting, with the occasional semi-bluff thrown in for good measure. But if you want to achieve greatness in poker, there are times when you just have to go for it with the cards you’ve been dealt, even if they don’t connect with the board in front of you.
The Naked Truth
As previously mentioned in this space, the best bluffs you can make are those where you have some equity to back you up, in case your opponent doesn’t fold. The more outs, the better: Straight flush draws in Texas Hold’em usually have so many outs on the flop that you’ll be the favorite versus a made hand. Flush draws and straight draws are pretty good by themselves, while gutshots and backdoor straight flush draw (where you use both your hole cards) can be useful in the right spots.
Then you have those cheeky “naked” bluffs. It takes some intestinal fortitude to bluff when you don’t have all those outs in your favor, but if you’re going up against the serious competition, it’s just the right thing to do – sometimes. And unless you’re already a top-flight player, chances are you’re not running these bluffs nearly as often as you should.
Once you step away from simplified strategies and into the world of Game-Theory Optimal (GTO) poker, you’ll be making moves that you’d never dream of making before. GTO poker requires a lot of mixed strategies to throw your opponents off balance; just about every possible combination of hole cards can and should be played in multiple ways. Hands that used to be folded will turn into calls, or even raises. That includes a lot of those naked bluffs you’ve been avoiding on purpose.
Ace in the Hole
The main “janky” hands to consider bluffing are those where you’re holding an off-suit Ace, and you’re in a single raised pot after opening in late position. These spots are fairly common; the action folds around to the cutoff or button, where you’ll open most of your starting hands containing an Ace. Then it will fold to the big blind, who will call with a very wide range of hands. You’ll have the advantage here as the in-position player, even more so if there’s at least one big card (Ten or higher) on the flop – the bigger, the better.
If you run a spot like this through one of those “solver” programs all the kids are using these days, you’ll see that most of those off-suit Aces need to be bluffed at a fairly high frequency when the flop doesn’t hit you. Your opponent is still going to fold a lot, and when they don’t, at least you have an overcard to the flop. Sometimes an Ace will bail you out on the turn; chances are your opponent doesn’t have one, since they didn’t raise you pre-flop.
Again, these naked bluffs are part of a mixed strategy, so sometimes you’ll be bet bluffing in this spot, and sometimes you’ll check back. You might even choose at random which moves to make. Whatever the case, save these moves for when you’re facing tougher competition, and as always, may the rectangles be with you.