Looking for opportunities to take down the pot pre-flop can be an excellent source of extra profit. We are going to consider the best situations to do so. Hopefully you are already familiar with the concept of bluffing and/or have read the article on the topic.
There are two main ways we can steal pre-flop; open-raising, and re-raising.
It’s always useful to have a rough idea of which hands you are opening from which positions. Maybe you have realised this range of hands can vary extremely widely depending on who is still to act. Some players even go so far as to open any two cards on the BU or in the SB - Is this really ever going to be profitable?
Theoretically, yes! But only in certain circumstances. It is necessary for our opponents to be sufficiently tight. The most relevant stats are going to be VPIP/PFR. We can also consider using the stat “fold-to-steal” which is a little more specific than general VPIP/PFR.
“FoldToSteal% - % of the time a player folds to an open-raise from the CO,BU or SB.”
Most of our pre-flop steals will be from CO BU and SB, but on exceedingly tight tables we can make steal attempts from earlier. It’s also worthwhile to check our opponent’s 3betPreflop stat. This will be encompassed within the general PFR stat, but gives a more specific idea about our opponents tendencies when facing an open raise. If we were to face an opponent that plays back 15% of the time vs our steal attempts, it would be better if he calls 15% of the time rather than 3bets 15% of the time. This way we still have the chance to flop something lucky with our bluff hand.
Basic Maths Behind Open-Stealing
It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself to be a “feel” player, there is certain very basic maths that will be extremely useful to you. Calculating profitability of a bluff is one such example.
Let’s imagine we are on the button, facing two very tight blinds. The BB has a fold-to-steal of 80% while the SB has a fold-to-steal of 90%. The blinds have been posted and we make a raise to 2.5bb.
In order to work out how often a bluff needs to be profitable we simply need to look at which percentage of the total pot we are investing. Simple huh?
% of total pot invested = % of time your bluff needs to work (in order to break even)
Firstly, what is the total pot? BB has posted 1bb. SB has posted .5bb. We have raised to 2.5bb. 2.5 + 0.5 + 1 = 4.
What percentage of the total pot are we investing? We are investing 2.5 out of 4. To convert this to a percentage simply enter 2.5 ÷ 4 in your calculator. We get the result 0.625 – this is a decimal. To convert to a percentage multiply by 100 (or move the dot two places to the right). We have the percentage 62.5%.
Will we take the pot down that often? Seeing as we know the precise fold-to-steal stats of our opponent we can calculate the exact amount of time our bluff will work. Against one opponent this is very easy – our bluff will work the same amount of time as their fold-to-steal stat. I.e if a player has a fold-to-steal stat of 50%, our bluff will work 50% of the time. This is especially applicable to SB vs BB situations where we only have one opponent whom we need to fold.
In the proposed example we have 2 players, with different fold-to-steal stats. We need to know how often both players will fold. In probability theory, we can find the likelihood of 2 successive events by simply multiplying the respective probabilities. We want to know the % chance that the SB folds (happens 90%) and then the BB folds (happens 80%). All we need is the answer to 80%*90%. But how do we multiply percentages? First we need to convert them into decimals; divide by 100 (or move the dot two places back to the left. 90% becomes 0.9, 80% becomes 0.8 etc. Input 0.8 x 0.9 into your calculator and get the answer 0.72. Convert this back into a decimal – 72%. Our bluff will be profitable in this case, we win the blinds 72% of the time but only need to win them 62.5% of the time.
So What? It basically means that in this particular example we can generate a profit open-raising any two cards from the button. If we give up immediately every single time we are called, we still make money. Assuming the players in the blinds don’t adjust, there is no reason we shouldn’t be opening any 2 cards from this spot. In reality we won’t be giving up every hand on the flop either. Sometimes we will flop a monster even though we open-raised with trash.
The principles for re-raising pre-flop are very similar to the ones involved in open-raising. We just need to use different numbers and stats. By re-raising we are talking about a situation where someone open-raises and we 3bet as a bluff. Or perhaps they 3bet us and we 4bet as a bluff, etc. In this article we will focus on 3betting, although hopefully you will be able to extract the principles and apply them to a wide range of other situations.
Similar to open-raising, in order for a bluff to be profitable our opponent needs to be folding sufficiently often. In this case we are particularly interested in our opponents FoldTo3bet stat. We can be more specific if we break this stat down by position. Usually players will not have the same FoldTo3bet stat from UTG as they will on the BU. Taking the generic FoldTo3bet stat can hence be misleading. We can also make logical estimates based on other statistics. If our opponent is open-raising very loose from the BU and very tight from UTG, there is a good chance he is folding to 3bets a lot more often from the BU compared to UTG.
In the same way we saw it might be theoretically profitable to open any 2 cards on the button, could it also be theoretically profitable to 3bet any 2 cards against a certain player? Again, the answer is yes. Let’s take a look at the basic maths.
Basic Maths Behind Pre-flop Re-Raises
You might be dreading more maths at this stage. But in reality, if you’ve paid attention to the first part of this article you should already possess all the mathematical skills you require to draw some solid conclusions about the profitability of a 3bet bluff in the following example.
See if you can answer the questions yourself – use logic to adapt the mathematical rules we’ve looked at thus far and apply them to this situation. If you can’t manage it, don’t worry. If you can, then congratulations! You will be able to apply the knowledge you’ve learnt to pretty much any bluffing situation you encounter, not just pre-flop.
SB posts 0.5bb
Hero posts 1bb
SB raises to 3bb (an additional 2.5bb)
Hero re-raises to 9bb (an additional 8bb)
Question 1 – How often does hero’s bluff need to work to be profitable?
Question 2 – What should villain’s FoldTo3bet stat be in order to make this bluff profitable?
What is the total pot size? 3bb + 9bb = 12bb
How much of the total pot is hero investing? Hero is investing 8bb out of 12bb. (If you thought hero invested 9bb don’t worry. Just keep in mind that any money invested previously i.e the blind payments, belong to the pot now. You are only interested in hero’s current bet, not any previous action.)
How often does Hero’s bluff need to work to be profitable? 8 ÷ 12 = 0.66666667
Convert this into a decimal 66.666% of the time. (Remember the formula % of total pot invested = % time your bluff needs to work)
What should villain’s FoldTo3bet stat be in order to make this bluff profitable? It would need to be 66.66667% or higher in order for the 3bet to be profitable by itself. Well done if you realised that a Ft3bet lower than this would be acceptable in general play. After all, you will still sometimes make hands post-flop even if you were bluffing pre-flop.