I recently finished second in the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker 21-H event for nearly $300,000. The heads-up battle at the end was interesting, because my opponent used a very passive style of play, limping a lot on the button and checking back on the flop with both strong and marginal hands.
To combat this, I began to lead on the flop with a wide variety of hands. This hand came up midway through our battle.
I had about $3.9 million, my opponent about $5 million. Blinds were 25,000-50,000 with a $6,250 ante. My opponent completed the small blind, and I checked from the big blind with Js Qh.
The flop came 3c 6c 9s, and I bet about $57,000.
This was the kind of flop I'd been leading with when I had a 9, na 6 with a good kicker, or a draw. I decided to lead with an unconnected hand this time, partly because he was often folding on the flop, but also because some of the cards that would give me a straight draw on the turn would improve a lot of the hands I'd been betting postflop. If I made a pair with a queen or a jack, it would look like a bad card for the kind of hands I'd been leading the flop with.
My opponent called. The turn came 10h.
I picked up an open-ended straight draw, with an eight or a king giving me the nuts (as long as it wasn't a club). An eight would also put a four-card straight draw on the board, with a seven in his hand making a smaller straight. A queen or jack would still give me top pair, and if I was leading a straight draw like 7-8, 8-10 or 7-10 on the flop, his hands that flopped a pair were now behind.
I bet about $123,500. My opponent raised to $295,000.
My opponent hadn't been raising my bets before the river. Since the 10h was good for the type of hands I'd led, including all possible combinations of the nuts, I expected my opponent to have at minimum two pair, and maybe a set or straight. My immediate odds were 3.76:1, so I wasn't getting the correct price to call unless I believed that I'd be able to capture a bet on the river if I improved, or that I'd be able to bluff some rivers.
I called, and the river came 7c.
This was a nearly perfect river for me to bluff. All of the draws I could have called on the turn improved except the one I actually had. J-8 and flush draws both improved to be better than the nuts on the turn. Importantly, 5-4 improved to a small straight. While I may not have bet 5-4 on the river, it was a hand I'd no longer be bluffing with.
I bet $1.1 million. I chose a large bet because I thought my opponent was sophisticated enough to realize how difficult it would have been for me to get to the river with a hand I wanted to bluff. Although I appeared likely to have a strong hand, I didn't want to bet so small that my opponent would make a crying call (a call you make even though you think you're likely to lose) with a set. And I was certain my opponent wouldn't have raised the turn with a flush draw.
My opponent folded.
Because there were so few hands with which I could have called a raise on the turn and still wanted to bluff the river, I was able to bet big on the river with the expectation that it would force my opponent to fold some strong hands.
Ben Wilinofsky is a Canadian poker player with more than $3 million in online tournament winnings and more than $1 million in live winnings. He won the 2011 European Poker Tour championship in Berlin. Poker Pros runs every week.