Representing hands is a form of bluffing that involves placing bets or raises based upon the potential perceptions of our opponents. This is generally based upon cards that hit the board, although it may also involve representing starting hands that our opponents may think we have.
The effectiveness of this is based upon the perceptiveness of our opponents. If we're playing in a game where players are pretty much playing their own cards, then obviously this isn't going to be a particularly useful tool. Most poker writers will pretty much tell you that it's useless in such games, but that's not exactly true. There is usually at least some perception among our opponents in most of the games we play, and in spite of representing hands not being particularly useful among a particular set of opponents, we always want to be on the lookout for potential opportunities to use this, even if infrequently.
The first thing we need to do prior to even considering using this tactic is to determine the situations and the degrees where it may be useful. First of all, this is going to be only effective against opponents with at least a decent potential for folding. People who will call you down just about every time aren't going to give you a lot of opportunity to do this. We still want to look into the situations where they fold, and seek to discover any potential opportunities that may arise when they tend to fold based upon their perceptions of what their opponents may have.
As always, we're not just concerned with the way opponents respond to us, we're interested in how they are responding in general in this regard. So you've got to be paying attention to when you're in a hand and when you aren't as well. And of course, most of the potential information will be gained when you're not involved.
So we want to pay attention to the folding patterns of opponents and try to determine their reasons for doing so. If it seems that they are folding because someone is representing a hand based upon what they would seem to have, then there may be an opportunity for us to take advantage of this as well. And it matters not whether they have the hand or not, it's the perception that is being acted upon and that's what counts. If an opponent is folding to what looks like top pair, and the people always end up having it, we can still use this as a bluffing tactic, since the opponent won't know the difference at this point. It's important not to be caught with these bluffs too much though in this situation, although if we do, we can take advantage of that as well, by having our opponents guessing more when we do have something. For now though, we're just going to concern ourselves with the tactic of representing hands, and look to see how we may get some extra bets by using it properly.
Let's take an example of this in action. Often times, opponents will fold to the pre-flop raiser leading on the flop. Now, if there's a high card that flops, this usually adds to the perception. Now, the player may or may not have the high pair in the pocket or hit the top pair, but if people are folding to this move, we want to consider taking advantage of it. So we spot this happening a lot, we have a hand that we raise with pre-flop, a high card flops, and we look to take it down by betting. Or, we're the type who is seen as playing high cards, so when one comes up, we represent it, and our opponents, knowing we play these sort of cards, will likely be thinking we hit something, even when we don't.
Whether on the flop or later, a certain card may hit the board which may be a scare card for our opponents. This may be an overcard, a paired card on the board, a potential flush or straight card, and so on. If our opponents are the type to be scared, this gives us an opportunity to go ahead and scare them. We want to make sure we have good fold equity here prior to making a move like this - a rule of thumb is that we need at least a good chance to take the pot down this way, although the amount we need is going to depend on what kind of hand we have.
It's always better of course to have something when we pull these bluffs, as is the case with bluffing in general. This might be in terms of a made hand of a lesser variety than we are representing, it may involve having a good amount of outs, or both. The better the chance we have to win the hand without the bluff, the less fold potential we need here. In terms of the math of the thing, what you need to do is combine the chances of winning the hand without the bluff with the chances of the bluff working, then assess this in terms of money odds.
This applies to bluffing in general as well, and let's look at a simple example to illustrate this more. Say there's 1 card to come, and you have a 20% chance to win the hand against a single opponent based upon our hand. There are 4 bets in the pot now. Our opponent has a 30% chance to fold here, and if he calls here, we'll assume he calls the river as well. So if we take the pot down now we'll get 4 bets, and if we get called and hit it we'll win 6 bets. A scare card comes up on the turn, say an ace, and we're going to represent the aces. We're also fairly confident that aces would be ahead here, which is important. You never want to represent a hand that isn't very likely to be ahead, since your opponent wouldn't care in this case and just play back at you. In which case the plan would be foiled for sure.
So, we're trying to decide if it's going to be worth it to represent the aces here. First of all, we have a 30% chance to win 4 bets by his folding. Then, if he calls, we're going to play on with a 20% chance to win. So, 56% of the time we're going to lose 2 bets, 30% of the time we're going to win 4 bets, and 14% of the time we're going to win 6 bets. If we didn't account for the fold equity of the representation move, this would be a fold here. However, by representing the hand, and adding that to our chances to win, this move becomes profitable. We now will win on average 1.16 bets by playing this through this way instead of calling.
As you can see, this is just another form of taking advantage of fold equity by bluffing, but it has the added advantage of representing more strength than a random bluff. Which should increase the fold rate of our opponents in these situations, adding to our fold equity and the success rate of the bluff in general. As you can see though, you need to always assess your winning potential without the bluff to get a true picture of the profitibility of the situation.
Another important feature of the tactic of representing hands is that it will be a very important counter-measure in dealing with opponents successfully reading our hands. And the better the game we're in, the more useful this is. A little while ago we had a member who was concerned about opponents catching on to us playing a limited amount of starting hands. At most games online this isn't much of a concern, since most players aren't paying attention enough to what we are doing to know the difference.
Let's just say though that we're in a very good game, and everyone at the table knows I only play high cards. This is an extreme example of course. When I'm in a hand, and a high card comes up, and if I'm betting it, they will fold a lot. First off, I'm going to play a few more hands to throw them off. Second, any time a high card hits the board and I'm in a hand, I'm betting it, and since they like to fold to me in these circumstances, they will be doing a lot of folding and I'll be winning less per pot, but winning a lot more pots. Plus, by playing more hands in this situation, I'll get more opportunities to bluff. The more they fold to me, the more I take advantage of this by representing the hands they are folding to. And if they adjust and loosen up, I'll adjust as well, and play better hands to the extent they are adjusting. So although they have a very good read on me, I've read their play as well, and am going to punish them for it by using this tactic. So although it's going to be rare that people have such a good read on me, I don't care because I'll just change my tactics and actually work this to my advantage.
In the end, the important thing is paying attention enough to what is going on in the game, and looking to use tactics which would best take advantage of the situation. Most of our play will be playing better hands than our opponents, because they play too many hands and tend to overplay them as well. We need to be on the lookout for situations which present other opportunities though, and adjust our play accordingly.