Caught in the Middle: The Value Bet Bluff

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Recently, I was playing an online tournament when an interesting spot came up — a three-way hand in which I was caught in the middle, so to speak, both position-wise and in terms of hand strength.

At the 30/60 level with effective stacks of 10,000, a player opened from early position to 210, the player on the button called and so did I in the small blind with {9-}{9-}. Then after a flop of {A-Spades}{7-Spades}{3-Clubs}, the action checked all of the way around.

Good players will decline to continuation bet here with enough {A-}{x-} combos to prevent themselves from being too capped on the turn and blown off their hands. But this was a small stakes tournament, and I did not give the unknown opener credit for being able to do that very often. Similarly, I’d expect most small stakes players to bet when checked to on the button with an ace. For these reasons, I expected the ranges of both players primarily to consist of pairs below the ace or air.

The turn brought the {5-Clubs}. I checked again as did the original raiser, and the action was on the player on the button who this time decided to bet half-pot. At this point, I thought that he was either…

  1. looking to protect his weak pairs from getting beat on the river
  2. bluffing into the seemingly orphaned pot or
  3. value betting a turned or slow played hand better than top pair

Figuring I was in great shape against the majority of this range, I thought this was a good spot to call. But there was one problem.


The original raiser had made a big bet preflop. Generally these small stakes players do so with {A-}{x-} hands as well as big pocket pairs. He’d twice shown that he did not have an ace with his flop and turn checks. This led me to believe that he very often had a pair bigger than mine. In other words, even though I felt like I was ahead of the player on the button, I also felt like I was behind the original raiser. This paradox led me to attempt a kind of hybrid play — what might be called a “value bet bluff.”

I figured that the player on the button would not have flatted preflop with many pairs better than mine like {Q-}{Q-} or better (for example). Also, many players in this position would bet with {J-}{J-} or {10-}{10-} when checked to on the flop, although I would not completely remove these hands from his flop-checking range. I believed that the range of hands that had me beaten was smaller than the range of hands that I was beating when he decided to bet.

As stated earlier, a call was not a great idea because of the player behind me who had a lot of {10-}{10-} through {K-}{K-} in his range. This thought led me to raise to get value from button’s draws and worst pairs while simultaneously bluffing the original raiser off of his pairs better than my {9-}{9-}.

The bluff portion of my bet seemed logical because the original raiser would be hard-pressed to bluff catch due to the added pressure of having a betting player behind him and because my check-raise represents more strength than a turn lead would have. The value bet portion seemed logical as well, because the player on the button was last to act. This means he would be more likely to call with worst hands, especially draws.

I raised the button’s bet of 345 to 900. The original raiser folded and the button made the call. The river was a brick and I checked planning to call a bet. The button decided to check back with {9-Clubs}{7-Clubs} and the original raiser said he had {K-}{K-}. Indeed, it had been a “value bet bluff.”