When do you turn a hand with value into a bluff?

You've made it to the river, but you lost a paddle along the way. You aren't quite sure if your hand has enough value to call the river bet you're facing, but given your actions, your opponent might think it possible that you have a very strong holding. However, you're fairly certain your opponent can't call a raise because of how he played his hand. Do you give up and sink into the water (call), or do you battle the current to reach the end of the river (raise)?

I was playing in a European Poker Tour (EPT) 2000-euro side event. The blinds were 200/400 with a 50 ante. I held Ac Ks with a stack of 35,000 and raised to 850 in middle position. The big blind had 23,000 chips and was a loose, passive player. He defended his big blind.

The flop came 9s 9d 7s. He checked to me, I bet 1,150, and he called.

The turn brought the Js, and my opponent check-called a bet of 2,900.

The 10s landed on the river. He led for 4,000. I moved all in, and he pondered his decision for a couple of minutes before calling with As 8d.

Raising with Ac Ks preflop is a no-brainer. I decided to bet the flop for these reasons: (1) to try to take down the pot immediately; (2) to get value from worse high cards and draws; and (3) to gain information about my opponent's range. The same reasoning held true for my bet on the turn. My opponent can call with worse hands or draws and also fold out better hands.


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When my opponent led 4,000 on the river, it was apparent to me that he had the ace of spades. He would not play worse flushes or very strong hands (such as a full house or straight flush) like this.

Now I had a decision. I held the king high-flush, I could beat a lot of hands, but not the hands that I felt my opponent would play in such a manner. His hand was face up to me. I went through my three options (call, raise, fold), and shoving was the ONLY way for me to win the pot. This is the best rule for when to turn your hand with value into a bluff: Do it when you feel your opponent's range has more value than your hand but isn't strong enough to call a raise.

Other things that factored into my river decision were my table image at the time (which was tight/solid) and how my adversary felt about his tournament life. He wasn't the type of player to not think through a hand if it could cause him to be eliminated. I felt he was capable of folding the ace-high flush because he would be worried about me having a full house or the straight flush. With the way I played the hand, betting every street and then moving all in over the top of his river bet, I could very likely have one of the hands that beat him.

In the end, I sunk myself. I knew where I stood in the hand and had the courage to turn a hand that had value into a bluff. Sometimes this is the only correct play. If you don't take the risk, sometimes you can't get the reward.

Tristan Wade is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and the director of training and education for DeepStacks Live poker seminars. Learn more at deepstacks.com.