Ben ‘Bencb’ Rolle: To Bluff, Or Not To Bluff, That Is The Question

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Benjamin Rolle, known to most of the poker world as Bencb, is one of the greatest online tournament players in the game today.

The 33-year-old German was a standout junior soccer player but turned to online poker after college and grinded his way to the highest stakes available. Originally an anonymous player, it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that he revealed his identity.

He has won many millions during his career, most notably chopping the World Championship of Online Poker $100,000 Super High Roller with Fedor Holz for $1.2 million. He recently took down the Sunday High Roller on GGPoker for close to $400,000 and scooped a Super Millions title for $424,000.

Rolle started Raise Your Edge poker training and has shared his strategies with thousands of players worldwide. (You can get started with Raise Your Edge and save big with the promo codes CARDPLAYERAPP or CARDPLAYEREXP.)

The high-stakes crusher pens the occasional column for Card Player Magazine, and also streams his play on Twitch. When he’s not playing or teaching, he works with his champion Esports club Acend.

Card Player caught up with Rolle to discuss bluffing, specifically when to pull the trigger and when to wait for a better opportunity.

Craig Tapscott: How can players identify the best spots to be creative and initiate a bluff?

Benjamin Rolle: Bluffs do not need to be creative. They are part of the game. They are mandatory.

It is all about risk and reward. Risk a little for a decent reward. This often involves betting the flop as a bluff, potentially second barreling a lot on the turn, but being very selective on the river. Once people call the flop and turn, they are often too attached to their hand and won’t fold the river. This is the biggest difference between winning and losing players.

Winning players can let go of their hand regardless of whether or not they called the flop and turn. They are able to reevaluate the situation on the river. Losing players often believe, “I called flop and turn, so I have to call the river.” That’s a big trap and a very flawed thought process.

If you study with solvers, you will see a lot of hands are folded on the river depending on the sizing used by our opponent. The larger the bet in relation to pot size, the less we call; the smaller the bet, the more we can call as we get better odds.

When we are bluffing, if we have missed the flop and play versus the big blind it will almost always be profitable to throw in small continuation bets as bluffs. For example, 33 percent or 25 percent the pot size.

On the turn, we either want to bluff on a scary card or with immediate draws like an open-ended straight draw or flush draws. Here, even if we have a hand like AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit we would still continuation bet on a K-10-5 flop, as the Villain will have lots of missed hands and we want to protect our hand against something like 8-7 offsuit or Q-7 offsuit that are in Villain’s defense range.

With Q-J we have an easy second barrel on the turn as he will have a few under-pairs like pocket eights that will call against a small c-bet as well as the 10x which starts folding now. With open-ended straight draws or flush draws we don’t need a lot of fold equity. I usually bluff a lot on the flop and turn but bluff less on the river, even with good blockers, as I’ve explained.

Craig Tapscott: What are a few of the worst situations/spots to attempt a bluff and why?

Benjamin Rolle: The worst spots to bluff in are when your opponents have a lot of very strong hands in terms of their absolute hand strength, especially on boards where you can technically have full houses, flushes, and straights. For example, a final board such as 7-9-J-9-Q.

Often you see opponents snap calling with a hand like A-9 or 9-5 suited because they have trips which is in general a strong hand in hold’em but only in terms of its absolute hand strength. Of course, if Villain bets flop, checks turn, and bets river it becomes an easy call as he can value bet K-K or A-Q against our weaker Q-x or J-x.

But if he check-raises you on the flop, bets turn, and goes all in on the river, your 9-5 suited, K-9 suited, or A-9 suited doesn’t look so pretty anymore.

Less experienced players think “I have trips I must call.” This is a very dangerous train of thought. They are unable to think in relative hand strength and consider the prior action and board runout. Particularly in this situation where your opponent can have straights, maybe he was semi-bluffing and made a backdoor flush or he had a two-pair on the flop and made a full house. Overall, his range consists of a lot of hands that beat you and very few bluffs. This makes your trips a very bad hand.

That’s not how most people think. So here, if I play this line and get to the river, you can be certain I will have a straight, full house, or a flush and exploit the fact that people can’t lay down strong absolute hand strength.

At my stakes, playing $5,000 and $10,000 buy-ins online, I will sometimes have bluffs since they think on a similar level, and it is easier to run big bluffs. Certainly not on lower and mid-stakes, though.

Craig Tapscott: Some players are confused when it comes to bluff catching. What should they be looking for? And how do combos/blockers come into play when I am deciding whether to call?

Benjamin Rolle: The first thing I ask myself is, “Is it an easy spot to bluff?” This is also what I advised in a recent Twitter thread.

Easy spots to bluff are boards where a lot of draws have missed.

Let’s say the board runs out 9-8-4-2-4. Villain can have Q-J, J-10, Q-10, 7-6 suited, 6-5 suited, A-3 suited, or A-5 suited. A lot of potential bluffs making it easier to make a 9-x or 8-x hero call even against a triple barrel bluff.

Now let’s assume the board does not provide these “natural bluffs” with busted draws. A board like 10-10-5-2-2 is much harder to bluff. Here blockers come into play. Villain needs to be able to identify the hands which block Villain’s strong holdings and unblock Villain’s weak holdings.

You certainly don’t want to bluff with a 6, 7, or 9 in your hand since it blocks Villain’s folding range. This consists of 6-6 thru 9-9 as well as some weak ace-high flop and turn calls like A-9 suited or A-8 suited (not saying this would be a good call, but it can happen). A hand like Q-J or K-Q blocks some stronger 10-x that might have slow-played or some stronger overpairs that didn’t reraise preflop like J-J or Q-Q.

Without going into too much detail, you can see that this spot requires a deeper understanding of poker, especially blockers. Thus, it will be harder for people to find the right hands to bluff and pull the trigger.

To be honest, I think that the 10-10-5-2-2 board is not a great board to bluff in the first place since a lot of weaker opponents will just end up calling 8-8 type of hands since they don’t like to believe you have trips or even aces and they are too curious. So, it is always better to bluff in spots where opponents get to the river with ace or king-high flush draws or a lot of weak pairs with draws that have called the flop and turn and will fold the river.

But again, I primarily focus on betting a lot of flops and continuing the aggression on a lot of turns but then often not bluffing in big river pots on low and mid-stakes. Being able to understand this and sticking to it is perhaps not the most thrilling style of play, but definitely the more profitable approach if you’re looking to take poker more seriously.

Craig Tapscott: How does bluffing change at final tables?

Benjamin Rolle: It changes a lot, but in both ways. Meaning, when you are the bigger stack, you will find more often spots that are supposed to be bluffed more aggressively since your opponent is supposed to fold a lot more.

And here is the catch, “supposed.” The language I’m using is essential. There is a huge difference between what people are supposed to do and what they will do. Even if you find spots where Villain is supposed to fold a lot, it doesn’t mean he will. And this can cost you a lot of money.

A prime example is you defending as a big stack from the big blind against a mid-stack (30-big blind effective stacks) and the board comes 6-6-5 and you intend to check-raise bluff and bet turn and put him all in on the river or even donk lead, bet turn and go all in on the river. Now, this is a terrible board for someone open raising from early or middle position. Given his mid-stack position and the short stacks present on the final table, he needs to be careful, and check his entire range. He doesn’t have a single hand that wants to play for stacks.

Even A-A wants to play a maximum of two streets for value. In a chip EV (chEV) scenario, we bet flop, bet turn, and go all in the river. Or even go broke on the flop against potential 8-8/9-9 or draws. Not saying it is a dream spot in chEV situations, but it’s more reasonable to play for stacks than in ICM situations on final tables.

Also, given the huge nut advantage for the big stack having all sorts of 6-x combos like 7-6 offsuit, 10-6 suited, J-6 suited etc., he will have a leading (donking) range since he must take the initiative and can dictate the size of the pot. Now, since he has more trips than the mid-stack, he can have plenty of bluffs.

Despite the big blind having a lot of bluffs, the mid-stack needs to start folding overpairs on later streets in case the big blind puts him all in. Well, that’s not really the case, especially for less experienced players. Their thought process looks like the following. “I have an overpair, I am top of my range, I have to call.” So you will get very few folds.

You can follow a GTO approach and have a lot of bluffs or play exploitatively, understand how humans, especially weaker and less experienced players approach these spots, have very few bluffs, get massive payouts when having trips and not punting your stack off just because theory tells you to bluff in these spots.

Against a strong opponent who understands ICM and these board dynamics as well as nut and range advantage, it might be better to have more bluffs in these spots.

Also, another big factor under ICM are the bet sizings. In chEV (early and midgame of tournaments), we want to use a lot of pot-size bets and overbets on the river.

In ICM we more often use 33 percent, 50 percent, and 66 percent bets, given that we have to be more careful with our chips. So often, you will apply already a lot of pressure betting two-thirds pot which might be half your opponent’s stack since the ICM pressure will come on top of it. You force your opponents into tough situations by using these smaller sizings, especially in situations when ranges are really wide, such as small blind versus big blind or late position (button, cutoff, hijack) versus the blinds.

The final table is all about using your chips wisely and also choosing your opponents wisely. Betting 25 percent pot might apply a lot of pressure against a 10-big blind stack, but no pressure at all against a 50-big blind stack. Keep that in mind. ♠