The check and delayed bluff can be a powerful poker weapon
There are certain hold’em situations against unknown opponents in which you can make the same play with a high level of success. One of my favorite plays is a version of a delayed bluff. A delayed bluff is typically defined as calling a bet with the intention of bluffing on a later street. You also can delay a bluff by checking a scary flop with the intention of stealing the pot on the turn.
The following situation occurs occasionally and is a great time to try a check and delayed bluff. You raise before the flop and get one caller from the blinds. A high pair comes on the flop, such as A-A-X, K-K-X, or Q-Q-X, and your opponent checks. If you check behind him, the first thought that often comes into his mind is that you are slow-playing your hand. Generally, your opponents will check the turn and you’ll frequently win the pot by betting.
This type of play has the inherent risk that the free card will improve your opponent’s hand. This is more of a problem in limit hold’em than no-limit, since you can still get your opponent to fold in no-limit. You also would win the pot sometimes by simply betting the flop. But let’s look at scenarios for both limit and no-limit in which a check and delayed bluff can work to your advantage.
In shorthanded limit hold’em, I am usually the most aggressive player at the table. I raise more than my fair share of hands and frequently bet out on the flop. My opponents tend to learn pretty quickly that I have rather loose starting-hand requirements and start calling me down with lots of hands. When a flop comes with a big pair, my check creates a lot of confusion. They are so accustomed to seeing me bet the flop that a check seems so out of character. They seem to believe almost instantly that I have hit a big flop. They won’t call with ace or king high and will fold even small pocket pairs, as they are determined not to give me extra chips. In fact, you can almost hear their minds, “I’m not going to let this guy sucker me in,” as their cards hit the muck. I realize that lots of times they are folding because they don’t have much of anything, either, but you’d be surprised at how often they fold compared to normal. The play seems to have a very high success rate.
The check and delayed bluff is also very powerful in no-limit holdem. As long as your opponent hasn’t flopped trips or a full house, he has to be concerned that you have flopped a monster. It is very difficult for your opponent to call a turn bet, since he knows that a river bet could put him all in. This same logic applies on the flop, but opponents are more aggressive and tricky on the flop. If they hold something like a medium pocket pair, they might call or check-raise on the flop. As soon as they do, you are put on the defensive, as you must be concerned that they hold trips. When you check the flop, many opponents are afraid to bet out on the turn since they sometimes convince themselves that you are slow-playing a monster. This play is also less risky in terms of giving a free card, since you can still bet them off the pot if they improve their hand.
Of course, the delayed bluff is both situation- and opponent-specific. The play doesn’t work quite as well in full-ring limit games. You aren’t necessarily raising more often than your opponents, so they aren’t as accustomed to seeing you bet out on the flop all the time. They might read a check on the flop as weakness and bet out on the turn, trying to steal the pot themselves. I also have stronger hands when raising before the flop, so I am less likely to want to risk giving a free card. For these reasons, I am more selective when trying this play in full-ring limit games and tend to bet out on the flop more.
You also must be aware of your particular opponent. If your opponent knows you well, you must mix up your play. In fact, by the simple act of writing this column, I would need to mix up my play if I believe that my opponent is a frequent reader of my poker books!
Bluffing is what makes poker such a great and fun game. There is nothing better than raising with 7-5 suited before the flop, checking the flop, and then watching your opponent fold happily as he is thinking about what a great laydown he just made!