I recently finished second in the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker 21-H event for nearly $300,000. The heads-up battle at the end was interesting because my opponent used a very passive style of play, limping a lot on the button and checking back on the flop with both strong and marginal hands.
To combat this, I began to lead on the flop with a wide variety of hands. This hand came up midway through our battle.
I had about 3.9 million, my opponent about 5 million. Blinds were 25,000-50,000 with a 6,250 ante. My opponent completed the small blind, and I checked from the big blind with Js Qh.
The flop came 3c 6c 9s, and I bet about 57,000.
This was the kind of flop I'd been leading with when I had a 9, a 6 with a good kicker, or a draw. I decided to lead with an unconnected hand this time, partly because he was often folding on the flop, but also because some of the cards that would give me a straight draw on the turn would improve a lot of the hands I'd been betting postflop. If I made a pair with a queen or a jack, it would look like a bad card for the kind of hands I'd been leading the flop with.
My opponent called. The turn came 10h.
I picked up an open-ended straight draw, with an eight or a king giving me the nuts (as long as it wasn't a club). An eight would also put a four-card straight draw on the board, with a seven in his hand making a smaller straight. A queen or jack would still give me top pair, and if I was leading a straight draw like 7-8, 8-10 or 7-10 on the flop, his hands that flopped a pair were now behind.
I bet about 123,500. My opponent raised to 295,000.
My opponent hadn't been raising my bets before the river. Since the 10h was good for the type of hands I'd led, including all possible combinations of the nuts, I expected my opponent to have at minimum two pair, and maybe a set or straight. My immediate odds were 3.76:1, so I wasn't getting the correct price to call unless I believed that I'd be able to capture a bet on the river if I improved, or that I'd be able to bluff some rivers.
I called, and the river came 7c.
This was a nearly perfect river for me to bluff. All of the draws I could have called on the turn improved except the one I actually had. J-8 and flush draws both improved to be better than the nuts on the turn. Importantly, 5-4 improved to a small straight. While I may not have bet 5-4 on the river, it was a hand I'd no longer be bluffing with.
I bet 1.1 million. I chose a large bet because I thought my opponent was sophisticated enough to realize how difficult it would have been for me to get to the river with a hand I wanted to bluff. Though I appeared likely to have a strong hand, I didn't want to bet so small that my opponent would make a crying call (a call you make even though you think you're likely to lose) with a set. And I was certain my opponent wouldn't have raised the turn with a flush draw.
My opponent folded.
Because there were so few hands with which I could have called a raise on the turn and still wanted to bluff the river, I was able to bet big on the river with the expectation that it would force my opponent to fold some strong hands.
Ben Wilinofsky is a Canadian poker player with more than $3 million in online tournament winnings and more than $1 million in live winnings. He won the 2011 European Poker Tour championship in Berlin.