Most people at the lower stakes are reasonably good at value betting the river. Maybe they miss a little bit of thin river value here and there but this is not a critical error at these limits.
However, an area where most people still play well below optimal at these stakes is bluffing the river. More often than not they simply just don't do it enough. Or when they do, they pick the wrong spots.
So this article will be all about how to bluff the river like a pro at the micros. The biggest keys are doing it against the right opponents and on the right boards.
Let's get started!
Always Be Playing the Player
As usual at the micros (or any stakes for that matter) the biggest key to most technical situations is understanding who your opponent is. I have talked about my 6 different types of regs at the micros before. And I have 3 more for fish as well.
However, this system is nowhere near perfect because every player has their own style of play and specific quirks. One TAG might play the exact same river situation differently than another TAG for instance.
This is why you have to dig deeper especially into the less commonly used HUD stats for a specific situation like this. However, the river is a bit unique because it can take an absolute mountain of data in order to get statistically solid information on someone.
This is why I am a big fan of the WTSD% (went to showdown) stat. It is a very simple measure of how often somebody goes to showdown. You don't need to have thousands of hands on somebody for it to be effective either. Typically 100 hands is good enough.
Targeting Specific WTSD% Numbers
When I am looking at whether or not to bluff the river the first thing that I want to know is how likely is it to work against my specific opponent. I obviously do not want to target the calling stations who can't fold bottom pair to save their life.
So I use a very rough categorization such as the following:
- WTSD% = 28 or more -- Do not bluff
- WTSD% = 23-27 -- Bluff with caution. Depends on the board and situation
- WTSD% = 22 or less -- Bluff them all day
But overall, I am looking to avoid bluffing the players who are going to showdown in the high 20s or more, proceeding with caution against mid 20s players and bluffing a lot versus low 20s and below opponents.
Board Texture and the River Card
Another key component to bluffing the river is the composition of the flop, turn, and most importantly, the river card itself. Something that I talk about a lot in both of my books is perceived ranges.
In very general terms the perceived range of the preflop raiser is big broadway type hands and big pairs. And the perceived range of the preflop caller is more geared towards speculative hands such as suited connectors, suited aces and mid and small pairs.
So if you are the preflop raiser it is often not a good idea to be running a huge bluff on a board like this: 4♣7♣9♥6♠2♣
On the flip side, if you are the preflop caller, you probably don't want to run a big bluff on a board that looks like this: A♥K♠8♣8♦Q♥
Perceived ranges are not always accurate though (this is why they are called perceived). But there is some truth to them more often than not. And this is especially the case at the micros where your opponents will be the least creative.
Bluffing is All About Telling a Good Story
Not only should you try to stick to bluffing mostly on boards which hit your perceived range but you should also clearly be representing several strong made hands that you could easily have as well.
This is the crucial part of bluffing, especially on the river, that so many people often miss. A good bluff is essentially a well orchestrated lie. Imagine yourself in the interrogation room.
Does your story make sense given how you have played the hand up to this point? When your opponent looks at the board after you make your bluff can they think of multiple threatening hands which you could have?
If you can answer yes to both of these questions AND you are targeting the right kind of opponent (as outlined above), then there is a reasonably good chance that your bluff will be successful.
Let's run through a couple of examples to hopefully illustrate all of this better.
Example #1 (6max)
Villain = Nit, 18/15/2, 4% 3Bet with a WSTD% of 21
Hero raises preflop from MP with A♥9♥ and villain calls on the button
The flop comes,
The turn comes,
The river comes,
Let's go through this hand each step of the way. We make a standard preflop raise with a decent suited ace in MP. We get called by a passive looking nit who has position on us.
His 3Bet is low for 6max at 4% so his hand feels a lot like some sort of small or mid pair here. He might have some sort of stronger ace that he doesn't want to 3Bet with from time to time. He might also have a suited connector or broadway type hand on occasion.
We catch a great flop for our perceived range and make a super standard CBet. When he flats on this board his hand looks even more like TT, 99, 88, 77 or 66 now. There are very few draws and it is fairly unlikely that he hit the king.
The 5 on the turn isn't really going to scare him if indeed he has one of those middle pair hands that we listed above. Therefore, we choose not to double barrel here. It definitely wouldn't be terrible though. It just depends on the player and any history.
When the river lands with a Q we pretty much have a mandatory bluff against this player. We can now represent several strong hands here such as AQ, KQ or even AK or KJ which decided to pot control the turn. We would play these hands exactly the same way.
This player does not like to go to showdown very often (WTSD% of 21). He will fold his TT, 99, 88, 77 or 66 a lot here. Easy bluff.
Example # 2 (Full Ring)
Villain = TAG, 15/12/3, 6% 3Bet with a WTSD% of 24
Villain raises preflop from MP and Hero flats on the button with 8♠9♠
The flop comes,
The turn comes,
The river comes,
So we flat preflop in position with a suited connector versus a decent looking TAG. Our plan is to try and flop something big or use our position to take the pot away.
We catch middle pair with a backdoor flush draw on the flop. We know that villain here is going to CBet pretty much his entire range on this board. Raising doesn't make much sense. But we are always calling.
The turn comes with a harmless 4 and we pick up a flush draw as well. So it is an easy flat again versus an aggressive TAG who could be barreling wide.
On the river villain checks on the ace. There are a few things here. The first thing is that we don't actually need to bluff. This is one of those clear cases of WA/WB (way ahead, way behind).
The large majority of the time here he has:
- A king, a high pair or he backed into the ace.
- A complete airball double barrel that he decided to give up on.
He will make the call very often with the former and insta-fold the latter. We are basically never getting called by worse so we should just always take the free showdown.
Just for the sake of argument though, even if we had nothing here (and therefore there was a point to bluffing), I would probably still decide against it. This is because of what we talked about before. The K and the A don't really hit our perceived range. It doesn't make sense for us to have these cards very often.
This player goes to showdown a reasonable amount of the time at 24% and appears to be a reasonably competent TAG as well. Therefore he is probably smart enough to sniff out an ill conceived bluff attempt like this even with something like QQ or JJ.
Making good bluffs on the river (and avoiding the bad ones) can make a big difference to your winrate at the micros. And it really isn't brain surgery either. The biggest key is simply understanding why you are making a bluff, or why you are deciding not to.
First things first, make sure you are making bluffs more often against the players who will actually fold. WTSD% is a great indication of this. Most fish will be the types who you want to avoid bluffing. The tight regs will often be the ones who you do want to bluff.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, be aware of what the community cards are and who they likely help in the hand. Also, if you do decide to make a bluff make sure that you can think of several value hands that you would play the exact same way as we saw in the first example above.
If you follow these simple guidelines, then you should be bluffing the river like a pro at the micros in no time. Let me know your thoughts on bluffing the river in the comments below. Do you have any tips that you would like to share?
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