8d 7d on Js 9d 5c

How to Bluff Your Straight Draws Like a High Stakes Pro

Straight draws tend to make the best bluffs. And not just because of their chances of actually hitting a straight.

Unlike flush draws, straight draws typically boast great implied odds because of their disguised nature.

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, straight draws often block some of our opponent’s strongest hands on many board textures and run outs.

In this article, I’ll review two hands submitted by members of The Poker Lab that demonstrate straight draw semi-bluffs with differing stack depths. Let’s get to it.

Straight Draw Semi-Bluff with Deep Stacks

This first hand is from Anton in a deep stacked, low stakes cash game.

5-handed Cash Game

Hero is in the CO with
J 9
utg folds. Hero raises to 2.86BB. BTN folds. SB calls. bb folds.

In general, opening J9o from the CO is a little too loose. However, Anton noted that there was a weak player in the blinds which makes opening here much more reasonable. We want to play as many pots as possible against weak players, especially in position.

The opening size used (2.86BB) is too large given the seemingly wide RFI strategy at play. Opening to a smaller size gives us better pot odds to steal the blinds, which allows us to profitably open more hands. We also save a few chips if we get 3-bet and have to fold.

In games without an ante, I prefer an opening raise size between 2.25 and 2.5 BB.

Flop (6.72BB): T 8 2
SB bets 5.04BB. Hero raises to 17.64BB. SB calls.

The flop is T 8 2, giving us an open-ended straight draw, and our opponent donk-leads for around 80% pot. Given that it is unusual to see leading strategies like this one, let’s talk a bit about how to respond them.

The first thing to consider is the bet size. Small donk-leads (around 1/3 pot and below), can be viewed much like a check. Small sizes mean great pot odds, so we have to continue with the majority of our range to avoid over-folding. Depending on the board texture, we can raise some of our stronger value hands, balanced with bluffs.

Against a larger-sized donk-lead, such as the one in this hand, we have to be more selective with our continue range. We need to proceed with caution, tightening both our call and raise range significantly.

Let’s get specific and run through our raising range on this board texture:

For value, we can raise AT, JJ+, T8s, 88 and 22. Note that we don’t include top set (TT) in this raising range because it blocks a top pair, which is the most likely value hand our opponent can call with.

This comes out to just 41 combinations of value raises on the flop. It’s easy to over-bluff with so few value combos, so we have to choose carefully from our many combinations of straight and flush draws.

Our actual hand is a great candidate to semi-bluff with here for a few reasons:

  • J9 can make the nuts on either side with it’s open-ended straight draw
  • J9 has little-to-no showdown value here
  • 6 combinations of our opponent’s most likely top pairs are blocked by J9 (JT and T9)

We want to avoid semi-bluffs with high-equity hands that have showdown value, such as any AdXd flush draw on this board. In order to protect our raise range when the flush completes, we should mix in semi-bluffs with some our weaker flush draws.

Be extra careful when semi-bluffing with unpaired, off-suit drawing hands as it is very easy to go overboard and become unbalanced.

Turn (42BB): 4
SB checks. Hero bets 21 BB. SB calls.

The turn 4 completes the flush, which is very bad news for our exact hand. Continuing to barrel wouldn’t be terrible, but we do have better combos to bluff the turn with given our wide RFI strategy.

When a flush draw completes and you are semi-bluffing with a straight draw, it is best to continue barreling with hands that block the flush as well. Having a blocker decreases the likelihood of our opponent having a flush, and gives us equity to draw to it ourselves.

For this reason, using your straight draw combos that contain a diamond and giving up with those which do not is a more advisable play on this turn.

River (84BB): A
SB checks. Hero bets 32.54BB effective all-in. (Results….SB calls.)

As played, this river spot can go either way. We’re betting under half pot, which means it only has to force a fold about 25% of the time, but we have many other hands in our range to bluff with as well.

This is a pretty unusual and rare spot that certainly won’t make or break your poker career.

Now, let’s switch it up and take a look at a tournament hand with shorter stacks.

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Straight Draw Semi-Bluff with Short Stacks

This hand was played by Lab member Jim.

8-max Tournament. Blinds 1,000/2,000/200

Hero is UTG+2 with
2 folds, Hero raises to 4,200 (70k chips). Hijack calls (55k chips). co folds. BTN calls. sb folds. BB calls (60k chips).

In this tournament hand, we open 65 from the lo-jack and get called by three players. This hand plays fine as an open at this 30BB effective stack depth – we can expect our short-stacked opponents to be fairly tight with their ranges and we give ourselves an opportunity to steal the blinds and antes.

Flop (17,800): 7 4 2
BB checks. Hero bets 8,500. Highjack calls. BTN folds. BB calls.

I would c-bet this hand 100% of the time in deep stacked cash game, but this is a tournament. With these stack sizes, I lean towards a check.

Effective stack sizes on the flop are an awkward 28BB. 65 can make the nuts with an up and down straight draw, but it’s not quite strong enough to bet and possibly commit ourselves to the pot.

Simultaneously, we do not want to be forced to fold a hand with so much equity by betting and folding to a raise. By checking, we give ourselves a greater opportunity to realize our equity.

Betting on this flop would be more appropriate if we were short stacked (below 15 BB) or deep stacked (80 BB+). When short stacked, we can comfortably bet this flop with plans to get it all-in versus a raise. When deep stacked, this hand make for an effective bet as it has the potential to make the nuts on either side.

What hands should we bluff with on this board at this stack depth?

I would go with hands that have less equity, but still some potential to make a big hand. Our 86 combos fit the bill perfectly, but that’s only four combos. To fill out our bluffs, bet with a few hands that have strong backdoors, like 98. If you get raised after bluffing with one of these weaker hands, you can toss it in the muck without a second thought.

Turn (51,300): A
BB checks. Hero…

Given that Jim elected to bet the open-ended straight draw on the flop, the best play on the A turn is to shove all-in. All of our opponents have less than a pot-sized bet behind, so betting all-in is mandatory to maximize our fold equity.

Also, as the pre-flop raiser we have a fundamental advantage– we have all of the overpairs in our range (and some suited Ax) and our opponents cannot.

The A turn isn’t the best card to see, but we don’t have to be too worried about our opponents having top pair here. Sure, they can maybe have a few Ax combos that flopped a pair on 742r, or a straight draw with A5s/A3s, but there are not many of these as they should have no off-suit variants. Our opponents are also unlikely to have strong Ax hands in their range on this turn after flatting preflop and calling the flop.

Our range should be perceived as the strongest on this turn given the action, making it an effective jam spot with our semi-bluff. We’ll get snapped off sometimes, but we have outs with our straight draw!

(What would Doug Polk & Ryan Fee teach their younger selves, if they could send information back in time? The answer is in The Poker Lab. Click here or below to learn more.) straight draw semi-bluff strategy


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About the Author
Doug Polk

Doug Polk

I have over $5,000,000 in live tournament winnings. In 2014, I won my first World Series of Poker Bracelet, followed up with a 2nd bracelet in 2016.
My online winnings are over $2,000,000 on Full Tilt and PokerStars alone, mostly at Heads Up No Limit, and those graphs are publicly available on HighStakesDB.

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