In NBA playoffs, teams play tougher defense than during the regulations and there is a non-written rule called the “No Layups,” which means the opposing player does not get an easy basket.
In poker, a familiar rule is the “No Free Showdown Rule.” I want to remind my opponent that any time he plays against me, there is no free river showdown. If he wants to play with me, I want him to know that any river decision is going to be difficult. In fact, if I can only give my student one advice to help his game, I want him to implement the “No Free Showdown Rule.”
Ask any high-stakes poker what are the top things he would like his opponent to do and give “free showdowns” will be overwhelming in the top 3, if not the top. When you know your opponent is passive on the river, you can a turn bet with a marginal hand that has some showdown value because your opponent will not bluff you on the river and you can safely fold if your hand does not improve.
By constantly applying the “No Free Showdown Rule” to your game every time you get to the river, you instantly become a better player. Let us go over a simple scenario.
You have 54s, your opponent has XX on a board of 2s3sTcKh7s, and the pot at the river is $1,000. You and your opponent have $1,000 behind. Your opponent checks. It does not matter what your opponent has. Unless you have the same hand, you will lose if you do not bet. Let us calculate the pros and cons of bluffing the river.
1. You check back 100% of the time for the 100 times in this spot. That means you gave up $100,000 in dead money. Never go all-in unless you are sure that this is the right moment for all-in bet. You should always think twice before putting all of your chips on the table, since you are risking losing them all. Learning how to visualize a poker range can also be useful.
2. You bluff 100% of the time for the 100 times in this spot. You bet $1,000. If your opponent calls 50% of the times, your play has as much value as checking back the river 100% of the time, which is zero. Here is the calculation. Total Money = 50 (+1000) + 50 (-1000). You break even. What if instead of betting $1,000, you decide to bet only $750. Now how often does your bluff have to work for you to break even? 0 = x (1000) + (1-x) (-750). X = 43%. Now your opponent has to fold only 43% for you to break even. What if you only bet $500 on the river for a cheap bluff? Then your opponent only has to fold 33%.
Obviously, checking back 100% of the time or betting 100% of the time is too extreme. However, what if I adjust the “No Free Showdown Rule” and instead of bluffing 100% of the time, I only bluff on any river that completes any draw. For the example above, I would only bluff at a river 4, 5, 9, and any spades. Since I will have a flush draw or straight draws (and made hands such as QQ+) when I bet the flop and turn, it’s difficult for my opponent to call my turn bet with a marginal holding if he doesn’t know whether or not I give him a free showdown at the river.
If you are afraid of getting caught on a bluff, think of it this way. You add more value to your nut hands when you get to the river in the same spot. After all, that is what you do pre-flop when you open a hand such as 86s or QTs in middle position. Those hands rarely make you money in that position yet you still do it anyway. The reason is you want to add more value to the nut to the top of your range. If your opponents know that you only play pre-flop with TT+/AQ+ in position, they are not going to pay you off lightly because they know you have a strong range and only call when they have implied odds. They also do not 3-bet you lightly pre-flop. However, by having a few speculative hands in your pre-flop range, they are going to make more mistakes i.e. paying off too light post-flop. So if you are intentionally playing “bad” hands pre-flop to disguised your range and to win more money with QQ+, then why aren’t you bluffing at rivers since that help you win more with your overall nut range too?