I was in a small buy-in NLHE tournamet when a situation happened on the last two tables.

I had T⋄9⋄.

I called a standard raise. The small blind went all in for about three timed my bet. Both of us called.

The flop comes down and I catch a flush draw with K⋄ and 7⋄. The first guy checks. I semi bluff bet at him and he folds.

The turn and river comes down and I don't improve. The small blind turns over a medium pair and scoops the pot.

Here's what I found weird: several players at the table, when they saw what I had, acted like I had made a real donky play. One even said "you're not a pro", Which is true but still not a nice thing to say. To me, it was a good play and it was quite possible I could have improved to a flush that would have beaten the small blind even if he had a monster pocket pair.

What do you think could be the reason for the negative reaction to my play?

  • +1 nice question :) . I edited it a bit to make it more readable. Sep 14, 2014 at 10:24
  • I just noticed that the title to your message reflects a lack of detail about the size of the side pot. The value of your bluff changes dramatically with the amount of money that's in the side pot, so its size is an important consideration here. Sep 16, 2014 at 21:56
  • This is an interesting question but as Jim Beam said you need to provide more information. If you want a complete hand analysis you will need to give exact stack sizes, positions, format(6-max, 9-max, online/live), exact bet sizes(and blinds) and any information you got from previous hands about the players. With the information you give the only thing I can say is that it is less common to bluff in side pots because you bluff only to win the side pot (0 in your case). However your play can be profitable especially if you and the remaining player had deep stacks.
    – Daniel
    Sep 17, 2014 at 11:17
  • It is worth pondering that only calling an all-in can preflop be seen by most as fairly weak (as indicated in the top answer in poker.stackexchange.com/questions/8165/…), yet raising after the flop to semibluff tends to be considered amateur form. I'm not sure it's as clearly defined mathematically as some would make it to be in their mind, but I also agree that I'd greatly hesitate to bluff in that situation. Aug 15, 2016 at 21:05

5 Answers 5


OK, let's break it down mathematically. I'm going to use a standard poker equity calculator for this.

  • You have T⋄ 9⋄
  • You say the all-in player had a medium pocket pair. For this "exercise", let's pick 8♠8♣
  • Let's consider the third player a typical tight-agressive player, in this case with a standard 18% Range of hands preflop
  • Since you didn't mention the third card of the flop, let's pick a complete blank, like 2♣

My equity calculator tells me that, at this point:

  • your equity is 43 %
  • the all-in player's equity is 23 %
  • the third player's equity is 34 %

Now, what happens when we add 2 more players in the hand, both with completely random hands (100 % range) ? (what their hands or ranges are is totally irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make, you'll see)

The equities now transform into:

  • your equity: 43 % became 37 %
  • the all-in player's equity: 23 % became 14 %
  • the third player's equity: 34 % became 25 %
  • the other 2 players both have 12 % equity

What I want to focus on are only 2 things: the number of players and how the all-in player's equity changed a.k.a. IT WENT DOWN.

The conclusion is that, the more players there are competing for a pot, the smaller the chances are that you'll win it 1.

For this exact reason, a typical play when a player is all-in is for all the other players to check it down, so that there will be a significant higher chance that the all-in player gets eliminated. I do it all the time in tournaments and you should too (this type of play is typically done at tournaments only, not cash games).

The only situation in which it makes sense to continue betting (and building a side pot) is when you have the nuts or something extremely strong (like Aces full, quads, straight flushes etc.). You want to do this in order to extract more value out of your hand. In this case, you can pretty much be sure that you have the best hand, since players will usually go all-in when they're short-stacked, which means that a marginal hand is "good enough to shove".

Since you didn't check it down in that situation, my guess is that this is the reason why someone else at the table told you that you made a donky play. People should be nicer and restrain from this type of comments (keep it to themselves) but, in this case, I think that person had a point: it would've been optimal for you to check it down all the way.

1 = This is essentially and fundamentally exactly the same reason why it's best practice to raise preflop: more players will fold, which means you'll have fewer opponents and, generally, higher equity.

  • 3
    Stack sizes and payout structure also could play a huge part in determining the correct move here. If the hero has a relatively large stack and the tournament is near the pay bubble, then it might make total sense for the hero to make a stab at this pot, especially if the other players at the table have shorter stacks and are playing cautiously to try to make the money. In this scenario, it doesn't cost a lot to have that player stick around. One main reason you wouldn't want to bluff that dry side pot is if the all-in player was a great player. In that case you benefit lots from his absence. Sep 15, 2014 at 14:49
  • I like your analysis. BUT I don't think that you're accounting for the fact that this was a tournament. And while there is no details by the OP, it sounds like it was late in the tournament too. So, I think the plays are slightly mitigated by those facts and they need to be taken into account. Sep 15, 2014 at 15:44
  • 2
    @JimBeam Actually, I am: this type of play is typically done at tournaments only, not cash games Sep 15, 2014 at 16:46
  • @RaduMurzea where is that in your wall of text? Sep 15, 2014 at 16:50
  • The unproven idea that this boils down to (even though it's one that indeed I typically play) is that it's better to your overall longterm odds of success to eliminate a player than to win this pot. Surely true for smallish pots... but wonder if a quantifiable point can be found (all else equal, hands unknown), where the increase in your odds\expected winnings becomes more important to success than the decreased odds of the all-in surviving. Considering the possibility the 3rd player holds something worth keeping, it'd surely be a pretty high proportion pot, if such a point even exists at all. Aug 15, 2016 at 20:42

I don't like this play, mostly because you don't mention any specific reasons why you thought it might be a good idea. In the absence of this information, I think you should go with the default play here of implicitly checking it down post-flop with the other villain and folding to post-flop aggression from the villain unless you hit your flush draw.

I think the best way to look at this is to ask these questions of yourself and your decision to make this dry side pot bluff:

  1. What is my goal in this tournament?
  2. What is my goal at this decision point in this hand?
  3. How does my decision to bluff at this point affect my chance to achieve my tournament goal?

IMO, you're unlikely to ever be called by worse hands here, and while you may get some better hands to fold (better flush draws or weak kings maybe), you don't really gain from that because there's no money in the side pot for you to win and you're still at best even odds with the all-in (assuming he has a 50% range). The bluff has neither improved your ability to gain substantially more chips nor to eliminate players.

If you have more specific info about the situation in the tournament like:

  • Stack sizes for each player involved
  • Number of players remaining in the tournament
  • Payout structure (how many places are paid, how close are you to that bubble, and what's the jump between pay levels)

it might be possible to argue for your dry side bluff, but in the most common situations, I think you're shooting yourself in the foot in a big way by doing that. In general, I think you're better off making the play here that increases the odds of eliminating a player.


OP - I'd like to see you add some more information to the post because we would need to know more about your stack size.

Based on the info provided, I like your play. However, if the other player was short stacked, then you can assume that their play was out of desperation, as is common late in tourneys. So I would have liked to have seen you either fold or go all-in pre-flop. If you had a healthy stack-size and were on your way to the final table, then fold. If you want to isolate him because you think he's a weak player, then go all-in and go heads-up with him - there's no need to have other people in the pot.


Because you violated the unwritten rule on conclusion here. You had a chance to take out a player and everyone would improve. What if the player you folded out caught runner runner to win the pot. Even if you lose small pot and take out a player you are better off. You are missing the bigger picture.

Check it down donk.


I have been experimenting with this kind of play in a cash game scenario but I don't see the point in a tournament.

I won't get too far into detail but betting an opponent off (even without a side pot) can win it for you. I have won with a high card on many occasions where another opponent has hit but I got them to fold. If the short stack hits then good on them you can't do anything about that once they are all in but you can increase your odds of taking that pot by getting others out of the hand.

In general I like to create a tight image so this may be a contributing factor here, but I have had a lot of success (and made new enemies) from this. Also, make sure the pot is worth the effect on your image because you will HAVE to show your hand to win (unless the all-in player mucks of course).

In a tournament, just check it down! two hands against the all-in is better than one hand against the all-in... you want to knock them out.

Also, don't assume your 9 high flush is good against two opponents here, not worth it.

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