Bluffing Against Continuation Bets

Dara O'Kearney

In my last piece, I set up the following scenario:

The under-the-gun player opens to 2.3 bbs playing 40 bbs, it’s folded to us in the big blind with the same stack or more, and we defend.

This is the optimal opening range for under the gun off 40 bbs:

Our defending range in big blind should look like this:

You call and the flop comes Ah 8s 2d. You check as you always should on this flop which is better for your opponent’s range than yours, and they continuation bet small, say 1.2 bbs. We looked at what hands make good raises for value or good calls, and I went on to pose the question: rank the following hands from best to worst as bluffing candidates on this flop.

(A) KQo

(B) K7s (with a backdoor flush draw)

(C) Q3s (with a backdoor flush draw)

(D 65s (with a backdoor flush draw)

(E) 43s (with a backdoor flush draw)

Let’s see how you did. Here’s the actual order, from best to worst:

(1) 43s (with a backdoor flush draw)

This is easily the best bluff we have for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s only 4 high, literally the worst hand possible on this board (the so-called nut low), so any time our opponent folds we know he folded the best hand!

Secondly, if we do get called or raised, it’s not the end of the world or the hand. We can turn the nuts if a five comes, pick up a flush draw if another of our suit comes, apart from hitting a pair that might be good sometimes. The ability to make a very strong hand immediately and other very strong hands by the river allows us to call even if our opponent raises us.

As a general rule, the nut low with a draw and/or backdoors makes our best possible bluff on most flops. It’s a combination of the fact that it’s an amazing result when the opponent folds and we win with what was definitely the worst hand, and the fact that even if we run into a monster we can get there. So with 43s on this board, we should go ahead and raise most of the time, and when we don’t raise we should just call. The main reason we need to do any calling at all is that if we always raised this hand on the flop, our opponent would know we couldn’t have the nuts when we only call the turn and a five rolls off on the turn. A recurring theme in all these pieces and in poker strategy in general is that as far as possible we don’t want to find ourselves in situations where we don’t have the nuts or at least a few very strong hands. When we do, we are said to have “capped our range”, and our opponent can attack these capped ranges with big bets (the flip side to this is when you find yourself in situations where your opponent has capped his range and you haven’t, you should attack with big bets).

(2) 65s (with a backdoor flush draw)

This is almost but not quite as good a bluff as 43s.

The main reason is it doesn’t have any immediate outs to improve to the nuts. This makes it less attractive to call if we get reraised. It compensates for this somewhat by having more ways to backdoor a straight (if it comes 34, 47 or 79) but not being able to make the nuts immediately means it won’t be able to call a raise on the flop followed by a big bet on the turn. By contrast, 54s is almost as good a bluff as 43s as it too can turn the nuts, and if we don’t raise it with should call with it. 65s on the other hand doesn’t make a great call, so we should either raise it as a bluff or ditch it right now. The latter option is important: in my experience when players learn that these hands make good bluffing candidates, they often start overbluffing by bluffing all of these hands all of the time. If you do and your opponents start figuring this out, they can exploit you easily by continuing much wider.

(3) Q3s (with a backdoor flush draw)

Although not as good a bluffing candidate as the previous two, Q3s with a backdoor flush draw does make a reasonably good bluff. Similar to 65s it can backdoor a flush or a straight, so getting called isn’t the end of the world or the hand. It also gives us another hand that improves if the turn is a queen which is useful. It doesn’t make a good call at all, so if we are continuing with it we should raise. But again, if we raise with it all the time we are bluffing too often. So it and similar hands like Q4s should be used as occasional bluff raises 10-20% of the time, and otherwise folded. How you decide when to raise and when to fold is up to you. You could use a randomiser so you are raising at the exact desired frequency, or you could, for example, raise only when you get a sense your opponent is likely to be bluffing. The fact that the hand is a mix (between raising and folding) means that if you and your opponent are playing optimally both options are equally good, and knowing that “it’s allowed to bluff this hand sometimes” should embolden you to bluff it when you think a bluff is more likely to work.

(4) K7s (with a backdoor flush draw)

This hand just isn’t a good bluff even with a backdoor flush. You have enough other hands in your range that can make a backdoor flush and a backdoor or immediate straight that you don’t need to use this hand so just fold it. If you start bluffing these types of hands as well as all the better candidates you’re supposed to bluff you’ll just be bluffing way too much, and very easy to exploit.

(5) KQo

This hand is the worst bluffing candidate for a couple of reasons. First, it can only make one backdoor straight, specifically on a Jack ten runout. It cannot make a backdoor flush. Second, the hand actually makes a reasonable call. It’s basically the same hand as the one combination of KQs that doesn’t have a backdoor flush draw, which we saw is strong enough to at least call some of the time in my last piece. Raising this hand and having to fold to a reraise is a very bad result for us, so if we do continue with this hand, it’s a just call.Remember, the nut no pair often makes a good call, because it beats all the bluffs.

Now that we have looked at hands that are strong enough to raise or call with for value, and what type of hands are the best bluffs, we will round out our discussion by looking at what to do with marginal hands that fall between these two categories in the next part of this series.

For your homework I want you to decide what you would do with the following hands facing a continuation bet on this flop:

(A) K9s

(B) K2s

(C) 92s

(D) 42s

(E) 99

(F) 44

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Dara has written three number 1 best-selling poker strategy books (“Poker Satellite Strategy”, “PKO Poker Strategy” and “Endgame Poker Strategy: the ICM book”) with Barry Carter and hundreds of strategy articles for various sites and magazines. I have coached dozens of players of all standards, made training videos for various sites, and cohost the Global Poker award-winning podcast The Chip Race with my good friend David Lappin.

"I have played a number of Irish Poker Tour events and I’ve absolutely loved the atmosphere and craic at them, so when they asked me to start providing strategy content for them aimed at the players who play them, I was flattered and honoured to accept."

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