say you're playing seven-card stud. You have a pair
of jacks, and on fifth street your opponent bets.
You know he has a big hand. So your response is easy:
You fold. Suppose you know your opponent is bluffing
with nothing. Again your response is easy: You raise.
Suppose you think he has you beat with two small pair,
but you're getting sufficient pot odds for a call.
So you call. Straightforward bets, straightforward
But what if your opponent is not so straightforward?
What if he's the kind of player who might be betting
with a legitimate hand but might also be semi-bluffing?
He's not always semi-bluffing, of course. That would
also make it too easy to respond, because if you know
an opponent is semi-bluffing when he bets, you can
simply raise with anything, and he will probably fold.
The problem arises when you think an opponent may
be semi-bluffing but can't be sure he does not have
a legitimate hand. What's more, if he doesn't have
a legitimate hand now, he may get it later - or he
may look like he's gotten it later.
It turns out there aren't many defenses against the
semi-bluff, which is why it is such a powerful play.
Frequently the best play against a possible semi-bluff
is to fold, especially when the pot is small. All
right, your opponent has beaten you. He may even have
made you throw away the best hand. But if you call
his bet, he has three other ways of beating you. He
may in fact have had the best hand when he bet. He
may have been semi-bluffing, but he now outdraws you.
Or he may have been semi-bluffing, but he proceeds
to catch scare cards that force you to fold. Therefore,
though you may have thrown away what was the best
hand at the moment, still your opponent had too many
ways of beating you to justify your calling his bet.
Even when you think you are favored to have the best
hand, it may be correct to fold. Let's say you think
it's a little better than even money that your opponent
is semi-bluffing. For convenience, we'll say you think
there's a 52 percent chance he's semi-bluffing and
a 48 percent chance he has a good hand. If he is semi-bluffing,
you figure you're a 6-to-5 favorite to beat him. However,
if he isn't semi-bluffing and has the hand he's representing,
you're virtually locked out. Thus, 52 percent of the
time you're a favorite to win. Should you call his
bet? Many professionals as well as amateurs make the
mistake of calling in such situations, but unless
the pot is large, the correct play is to fold.
Let's work it out mathematically. You lose almost
automatically 48 percent of the time. Of the remaining
52 percent, you'll win an average of six out of 11
hands (since you estimate yourself to be a 6-to-5
favorite). In other words, you'll lose almost half
the time when you're a slight favorite and virtually
all of the time when you're a big underdog. You stand
to win the hand only 29 percent of the time in all.
To call the bet then, you would need to be getting
at least 7-to-3 effective odds from the pot, which
is not very likely in an early betting round. Hence,
the correct play would normally be to fold.
players, players who frequently call and rarely raise,
make other players feel right at home. The highly
effective player doesn't want you to feel right at
home. He won't let you get comfortable. He'll raise
more than he'll call, check-raise frequently, and
check-call rarely. He'll vary his play (but never
veer too far from strong play) and he'll vary his
image so that you're constantly in doubt about him
and his style and intentions. He'll be tricky and
frisky. He'll make you react to him. If he does his
job right, you will react wrong.
Against this sort of player, paradoxically, tight
players play too tight and loose players play too
loose. The tight player decides to beat this guy by
snugging up his starting requirements. This results
in the tight player essentially removing himself from
competition, leaving the power player that much more
in command. Loose players, on the other hand, can't
believe that the power player is not out of line,
so they try to play back. Lacking the confidence,
insight, and preparation to do the job right, they
end up riding a roller coaster-riding, but not driving.