Making bluffing on the river a successful ride

Our recent column on “The Art of Bluffing” described the two key tactics for successful bluffing – even in low-limit games: (1) Making a huge bet and (2) Using the Esther Bluff (It’s powerful!), reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell.
We also explored tells to avoid so you don’t tip off your opponents when you are bluffing; the importance of your image; and how to play when you suspect an opponent may be bluffing. Today, let’ss ee how you might set the stage for bluffing on the river – so it will be more likely to succeed.
The best payoffs on bluffs are those on the river. (Note: There are also steals on the flop that can be profitable and semi-bluffs, primarily on the turn.) Since bluffing on the river provides the greatest payoff potential, it pays to have set the stage for it. Having a tight image is helpful; then your opponents are more likely to respect your bet on the river, and more likely to respond by folding. How might you best set the stage?
Your River Bluff
Along with several opponents, you saw the flop with suited A-10 of hearts in the hole. Two more hearts fall on the flop. With the turn and the river yet to come, you have a good chance of making the nut flush. There is no pair on the board so a full-house is a very long shot. Three opponents before you bet on the flop; now it’s your turn to declare.
If you raise at this point, you are getting at least 3-to-1 money (pot) odds when they all call your raise vs. less than 2-to-1 card odds against making the nut flush by the river. That’s a Positive Expectation (PE), and a good investment in itself. And, what’s more, you are setting the stage for a bluff on the river in case you don’t connect for the nut flush.
If the turn doesn’t help you, consider further setting the stage for bluffing on the river. Because of your raise on the flop, your opponents respect (maybe even fear) you; they all check to you. Mind you, they have no idea of your hole cards; they can only guess. Since you have a tight image, they are already convinced you have a strong hand – strong enough to raise on the flop!
So you make the big bet. In fact, it’s a semi-bluff. It is possible that all three opponents fold their hands, leaving the pot to you by default. Good bluff! In that case, you have won a modest pot by having set the stage with your raise on the flop. More likely, one or two opponents have connected with a hand that has possibilities: top pair on the board; perhaps even a set; a draw to a straight.
So two opponents decide to see the river with you; they call your turn bet, to see the river. Now the dealer slowly reveals the river card. Everyone is focused on watching his hands. Well not everyone; you are watching the reactions of your remaining opponents in the hand. You might be able to pick up a tell or two for important information you can consider in taking your next step.
Of course, you were hoping to catch the nut flush for a powerful hand. (The odds are against it, about 4-to-1; but if you are lucky and make the nut flush, you can bet for value to build your pot.) Three-out-of-four times, you miss it. Now, the wayyou can win this pot is by bluffing out your remaining opponent(s). So once again, you make the Esther Bluff. Having well set the stage, your bluff will succeed about 70 percent of the time. (That’s my observation for low-limit games. It may do even better in no limit games where you can bet as much as “all in.”

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