There is a greater issue, often referred to as "metagame," that has some bearing here as well. While players at the micros are generally paying less attention than those at higher limits, there are still benefits to building an aggressive image.
People will notice this even at the micros. And building an aggressive image will of course help you get paid off much easier. Here is a hand that I played a couple of months ago which really helps illustrate this.
Villain is an 8/3 supernit reg who I have 6k hands on (i.e. we have played a ton together)
PokerStars No-Limit Hold'em, $0.02 BB (8 handed)
Hero (BB) ($6.53)
Preflop: Hero is BB with A♦, Q♣
6 folds, SB calls $0.01, Hero bets $0.08, SB calls $0.06
Flop: ($0.16) 6♦, J♦, 2♦ (2 players)
SB bets $0.02, Hero raises to $0.16, SB raises to $0.30, Hero calls $0.14
Turn: ($0.76) 5♦ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $2.50, SB calls $2.50
River: ($5.76) Q♥ (2 players)
SB checks, Hero bets $3.65 (All-In), SB calls $1.55 (All-In)
Total pot: $8.86 | Rake: $0.42
I have the chat turned off 99.9% of the time I am playing (very +EV and a good idea for a future blog post) but I turned it on after this hand to hopefully get an idea of what the hell happened here. Why on earth does an 8/3 nit lose his mind against me like this? Here is what he said (I didn't say anything before or after by the way):
xxxxxx said, "dint believe u)"
xxxxxx said, "seen u raise with 910 so :p"
So because he saw me make a loose raise one time in 6k hands he decided that I just had to be bluffing up a storm 200bb+ deep here. Maybe an extreme case (and it is NL2) but I think you get the point.
Poker players tend to have a very selective memory.
Much like how people tend to remember a single bad beat late in a tournament for years, such can be the case in cash games as well. Nevermind the fact that I am a winning TAG reg, this guy saw me raise with T9 one time (could have been months before this hand who knows) and that stuck in his memory and caused him to play his hand here very poorly against me with very deep stacks.
So the point of all this discussion so far is that we need to view our play not just in the vacuum of this particular hand but also in the much wider sense of the long term against players we might see for months down the road.
Bluff raising flops allows us to cheaply and effectively win pots but it also allows us to build an aggressive image that may pay big dividends down the line for us. And it is great if you get caught every once in awhile. Because when they see you show up light just once (as we saw above) that can be enough to get you loads of loose future action.
So when should you bluff raise?
Well this depends on a couple things.
- Perceived ranges
- Flop texture
- Player type
Let's explore these three ideas one at a time.
A perceived range is a spectrum of hands that a certain player is believed or assumed to have in some particular scenario. It doesn't mean that they will always have one of these hands. Rarely are there any absolutes in poker. It simply means that this is the range of hands that people expect them to show up with.
When somebody raises preflop their perceived range is big pairs and big broadways. Hands like,
A♦A♣, K♥K♠, A♣K♠, A♠Q♥ etc.
When somebody calls a preflop raise, their perceived range is small pairs, mid pairs, suited connectors and some weaker speculative broadway type hands. Hands like,
5♥5♠, 9♦9♣, 6♠7♠, A♣8♣ etc
So this ties directly into flop textures. If I am the preflop caller and the board comes something like,
This is not the kind of board that I want to be bluff raising. Why? Because this board absolutely nails the range of the preflop raiser. He is therefore unlikely to fold very often when I raise. Furthermore, I won't have many hands in my range that hit this board anyways. I would have 3bet preflop with a lot of the hands that connect with this board.
So we will want to bluff raise flops that hit our perceived range. If we are the preflop caller then these are going to be boards like:
These boards contain a lot of small and middle cards (which we are supposed to have in our range) and they are also very wet (flush draws, straight draws). When our opponent cbets with his big pair or big broadway, he will not be enjoying life very much when he gets raised on these types of boards.
Conversely, if we are the preflop raiser and someone donks into us, the boards that we should be bluff raising are ones that contain lots of big broadway cards such as:
We are supposed to have these cards in our range when we raise preflop so if somebody donks into us we can credibly represent them. The second board only has one broadway card but remember our range also has a lot of big pairs in it which don't need to improve.
So the last thing to consider when bluff-raising is the player type. Against call stationy recreational types players who go to showdown a lot it isn't going to make a whole lot of sense to be bluff raising at any point during a hand, let alone on the flop. Similarly against nitty players who have a very tight range in any given situation I will be less inclined to bluff raise as well.
So this leaves that big middle category of players from nitty TAG's (13/10), TAG's (16/14), LAG's (20/18) and SLP's (semi loose passive, 24/6) who we will want to be doing this against. Now I feel compelled to stress again that bluff raising is not a standard play of mine at all at the micros. But let's see if we can create a couple of hypothetical scenarios here where we might want to think about employing this play.
An SLP raises from MP and we call in LP with,
The flop comes,
He cbets and we raise.
Instead of just calling here we can entertain raising because this is the kind of board that is going to be hard for him to hit, and presumably easy for us to hit, given our perceived range. Raising isn't completely necessary here but it is an option. We probably have some decent equity against his range with a gutshot and a midpair. But more importantly we have position and a board that looks scary to him.
The added benefit here is that even when he does call we are going to secure a free card on the turn most of the time since we have position. If he wants to station up and call us down we can just foil those plans by checking back the turn and seeing if we can hit something. A lot of the time with passive players at this limit they will even check the river here as well. There is no need to continue on with our bluff.
We can possibly value bet in some spots if we think that he is stationy enough to have called the flop with just overs or a worse pair. But there is nothing wrong with seeing a showdown as well. Remember that other players at the table will then get to see our hand and realize that we are capable of raising with stuff that isn't exactly the nuts. This might pay off in the future.
Let's look at another sort of scenario.
A TAG raises from the button and we just call from the SB with,
We just called because there is a fish in the BB and we didn't want to blow him out of the pot by 3betting. The fish unfortunately folds anyways.
The flop comes,
We check and the TAG cbets. We should raise.
There are a couple of things here. First, we should raise because this flop represents cards that hit our preflop calling range. Even though the TAG's range is going to be really wide from the button, in theory this flop should still be better for us than it is for him.
Secondly we have a hand that has a lot of hidden equity. Since we know that our opponent's range here is going to be pretty wide, we expect to have the best hand when we hit our ace or jack. We will also hit our backdoor flush about 1 in 20 times. And we will pick up another club on the turn 1/4 times which we can continue bluffing with.
But also, we could easily be bluffing with the best hand here. This is why we want to make these plays against players who have a wider range and not against supernits or fish whose range is incredibly wide but their ability to fold even bottom pair is low.
It is important to note here that we are raising with a hand that has equity. Something that I like to always mention when bluffing is that you should always have some equity. There is just no need to run stone cold bluffs in full ring poker at any level in my opinion. If you have 6 high with no draw just fold and don't even think about doing anything.
The same thing goes with small pairs. Don't bluff with your small pairs when all you have is an underpair. Your chances to improve (2 outs) are just so slim. We always want to be "semi- bluffing" even if it is as weak as a gutshot when we are bluffing because why not? Why not have some equity in the hand? You are going to get called more often at the micros and we at least want to have some chance to dish out a nice beat and put them on tilt.
I guess that would be a good topic for another article as well. But another added benefit of bluff raising with some outs is that we will hit them from time to time and there is nothing more tilt inducing in poker than when somebody raises you with a weak draw and hits. And obviously when we put people at our table on tilt this is a very good thing for our bottom line.
We raise from MP with,
And get called by a LAG in the BB.
The flop comes,
He donks into us. We should raise.
We should raise in this spot because this board is very dry and therefore very hard to hit. When a board is very hard to hit it favors the preflop raiser because the perception is that he doesn't need to improve his/her hand to the extent that the caller does.
And in cases like this it would be especially useful to just have a quick look at the opponent's donk bet stat. This can be found on the bottom left of the full popup in Hold'em Manager. If you have a decent size sample (the number to the right in brackets which represents opportunities to donk bet is around 5 or more) and it is 30% or more we can probably safely assume that he is doing this pretty wide.
And especially on a flop like this, all types of players love to donk out with their marginal strength hands because they don't think that you can have anything either. The issue that you must be aware of with these types of boards however is that you will often have to fire multiple barrels in order to win the pot.
Players at the micros don't like to fold marginal hands so we expect to get called here by a wide range of middle pair type hands.
9♣9♥, 8♠8♦, 7♥7♠ etc
As well as all the Jx hands.
We will need to fire again on a lot of turn cards, especially big broadway ones. However, if your opponent is a straight fish (55/5) type player you would be much better served to just give up as they will often just call anyways. Or even more mind bending, that broadway card (especially an ace) on the turn actually hit them because they floated your bluff raise on the flop here with
So I hope this discussion was helpful to you. My approach to the micros is one based largely off of exploiting bad players with big hands. I don't do a whole lot of bluffing. But we should always be looking to maximize our edge to the fullest no matter what game we are playing in.
Situations where we can cheaply bluff raise the flop and possibly win the pot will arise from time to time. And at the very least we might be able to develop a bit of a bad image for ourselves and get a bunch of loose action later.
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