Most of us don’t like to risk huge amounts of money on a bluff, at least, not until we train ourselves to. True, there are some of us who appear to have the “gambling gene” and love to risk money on a bluff, but for many of us, triple barrel bluffing is not a tool we use frequently, if ever.
This is not to say it can’t be a strong tool, in fact it can be very powerful. Even holdings as strong as top-pair-top-kicker can give us a really hard time when facing a 3-barrel from an average unknown. The truth is, most players are simply never bluffing like this, and usually not value-betting worse than our holding either.
Dealing with a 3-barrel is a topic for another day – right now we are interested in how we can reverse the scenario and be the one putting pressure on our opponents.
Bluffing is Correct
Before we go into any specifics, it’s useful to know that triple barrel bluffing is a theoretically correct part of poker strategy.
How frequently we should bluff is usually related to the bet-sizing we use. In general the larger we bet on the river, the more frequently it is correct to bluff. It’s very simple to calculate theoretical value:bluff ratio by simply looking at the pot-odds our opponent is getting on the river.
So assuming we bet pot-size on the river our opponent will be getting 2:1 or 33% on a call. He needs to be good 33% of the time, so we should be bluffing about 33%. Assuming we bluff less than this he is theoretically able to fold all of his bluff-catchers, while if we bluff more than this he can call all his bluffcatchers. Betting exactly 33%, keeps him indifferent to calling or folding.
The majority of opponents will be bluffing more like 5-10% when they fire the third barrel. This means we can exploit them by making big laydowns and giving them huge credit when they triple.
5 Pointers for Triple Barrel Bluffs
So how do we know when it’s a good situation to fire that third barrel? There are 5 things we should be looking out for.
1. Opponent folds too much to River Cbets
Admittedly we are not going to have the luxury of having a big sample size of hands on river situations for the most part. In some cases we will pick up enough of sample to recognize that our opponent is folding too much on the river. Assuming we make a 2/3rds pot sized bet, if our opponent is folding over 40% of the time, we are actually generating automatic profit. By the time our opponent is folding over 60% to river cbets we should typically be firing any air holding we reach the river with.
2. No Showdown Value
The best hands for river bluffs are those which have zero shot of ever winning at showdown. If a hand has even a small chance of winning at showdown then the EV of checking will be above zero. This means that our bluff doesn’t just need to be profitable in order to be correct. The EV of our bluff needs to be higher than the EV of checking in order for it to be the best choice. The more showdown value we have, the higher the EV of a check, and the less likely our holding is to be a consideration for a 3-barrel bluff.
Depending on our opponent, even some relatively strong hands may have a higher expectation as a bluff than a check. This is why we occasionally see professional players turning hands as strong as top pair into a bluff. From an exploitative point of view we can bluff anything so long as we feel the EV of bluffing is higher than that of checking.
From a theoretical point of view though, it would be incorrect to bluff with everything, because then we’d be bluffing the river too frequently, which is something an adept opponent might be able to exploit. So seeing as we can’t fire every time as a bluff when following a balanced strategy, it makes sense to check the hands that have the highest expectation as checks, and then bluff the hands that have a low or zero expectation as checks.
In many cases blockers are over-rated. Many situations are simply not close enough that the blockers actually make a difference. The stronger our opponent is the more relevant this particular facet of our 3-barrel bluffing strategy becomes.
The idea is that we can learn a little about the potential fold-equity we have by considering our own holdings. Imagine we are triple barrel bluffing on a board texture where a heart draw completed on the river. It’s usually beneficial if we hold something like the Ace of Hearts. Naturally when we bluff on a texture where a flush completes we are a little concerned our opponent is going to snap call and turn over the flush. By holding one of those flush cards ourselves, especially the Ace, we reduce the likelihood our opponent has that flush. We can say that we have “good blockers” and expect to generate more fold equity as a result.
It works in the opposite way too. If we imagine a board runout where a heart flush-draw was possible, but the turn and river bricked off – do we prefer to hold a heart in our hand or not? In this case we prefer not to hold the heart. It means our opponent will have a larger amount of busted heart draws in his range which he can be folding the river with.
4. Capped Range
3barreling as a bluff is always more profitable when we can infer that our opponent might be capped.
By “capped” we mean that there is a limit to how strong he can be as a result of the line he has taken. For example our opponent decides to call us down on a
texture. He is usually capped. This is because if he has any holding 2pair or stronger he is likely to raise one of our cbets. It’s dangerous for him to give us free cards on such a drawy runout assuming he is holding a monster. As such he is usually capped to Tx holdings (i.e Tx is his strongest hand), and his range also contains a number of busted straight and flush draws. Bluffing will often be extra profitable in this scenario.
5. Barrel the Turn with Equity
Bluffing the river with the right range can be a delicate balance. If we get to the river with a bad range in the first place: there will often be nothing we can do to fully rectify the situation.
It’s important that we are selective about the type of hands we semi-bluff the turn with.
If we bluff the turn too frequently, our river range will be too wide and we will be forced to bluff too frequently (or check/fold a bunch of weak holdings).
If we never bluff the turn and only value-bet, our river range will be far too strong, and a good opponent will simply be able to fold any mid-strength holding every single time we 3-barrel.
Putting it Together
The best recommendation is to simply put ourselves in a position where we try out some three-barrel bluffs. It can be daunting at first, but it shouldn’t be a big deal to us if we end up losing money, so long as we learn something in the process. This is essentially one of the ways poker players “pay” for their education. They make mistakes which cost them money, but then learn from these mistakes, resulting in a stronger strategy which makes back the lost money and more.
Another tactic we can use when trying out a new line for the first time, is to simply take that line for value, so we feel the pressure a little less. Sometimes when we three barrel for value we don’t really take note of the times we get folds. Our goal when scouting the possibility of improving of our 3-barrel bluff game is to watch our opponents intently, even when we are firing 3-barrels for value. We should see how many folds we get, in which situations and against which opponents.