If you’ve made it to the river and all you have is a busted flush, it can be tough to know what to do. Do you go for a ballsy bluff, or simply let it go? In our latest No-Limit Hold’em poker strategy piece, this is the exact question that we’re going to answer. So let’s take a look at when you should bluff with a missed flush draw.

A man performs an overhand shuffle on a deck of cards. The Queen of Hearts is visible. A stack of white poker chips can be seen in the bottom-left corner.
It can be hard to know what to do with a missed flush draw.

Think About All Possible Bluffs

Let’s talk about bluffing in poker. Why do we do it? Think about a tight player who never bluffs. It’s very hard for them to get paid off when they have a monster. That’s because they are too predictable, and we all know to fold our worst hands whenever they bet.

The solution to that problem is to throw in the right amount of bluffs to keep your opponents on their toes. Bluffing is not what makes you long-term profit; solid fundamentals are responsible for that. But without balancing our ranges with a few well-chosen bluffs, even doing the basics right is not going to be enough.

With that in mind, missed flush draws can present us with an opportunity for range balancing. In every spot, we must consider our entire range, taking the best value hands and working backward to select the bluffing candidates. From time to time, that will include busted flushes.

If You’re Not Sure, Play It Safe

However, in the majority of cases, a busted flush on the river is not a good candidate for bluffing. Although draws are excellent hands with which to make a semi-bluff attempt on the flop or turn, it’s different after the river.

The main reason is the blocking of your opponent’s folding range. Every hand is unique, of course. But, usually, the cards you are holding with a missed flush draw are the same cards you want your opponent to hold. And if you have them, the chances are greatly reduced that someone else does too.

If you go ahead and make the bluff, you’re likely to be called often because you don’t normally block their call range. So, if you’re not sure what to do with your busted draw, the general rule is to play safe and simply check. Only if you have a very strong read on the situation should you attempt a bluff.

Example Hand

Let’s look at an example to help visualise the situation. You’ve raised preflop from the button with J-9 of clubs and the Big Blind has called. The flop is K(Club)-T(Diamond)-4(Club) and you have a potential flush draw with a gutshot straight draw. It’s checked to you, and you fired a continuation bet, which is called. The turn is 8(Heart) and you bet again, finding another call. The river 3(Spade) is a total brick.

Let’s look at our opponent’s situation here. What hands are they possibly folding if you bluff? Weak flush draws are the obvious candidate, but we are already holding two clubs, making this much less likely. Then it would be Q-J, which we also block, as well as A-X, but we even block A-J. So as you can see, it’s not the greatest spot for a bluff.

When Defending Your Big Blind

Although we just said that you generally should be cautious, there’s one specific scenario where that doesn’t apply. If the following three events occur, your mindset should change from “if you’re not sure, check” to “if you’re not sure, bet”.

  • You’re defending your big blind against anyone other than the small blind
  • You check-called a bet on the flop
  • Action on the turn went check-check

This is an extremely promising position in which you can bluff despite having missed your flush draw. In order to check-call a bet on the flop, you must have some kind of a hand. By doing so, you’re signaling that your range probably contains made hands for the most part.

You can very safely represent a hand like top pair on the flop. To balance out your range, missed flush draws are good candidates for bluffing. That’s because here, they don’t block the kind of hands you want your opponent to have. Ace high, for instance.

Final Thoughts

To wrap things up, bluffing on the river with a missed flush draw is not normally the best play. The usual poker caveat applies, of course. Every hand is different, and there are always exceptions to the general rule. But if you’re in any doubt, you should usually play safe and check.

The one exception to that is when you’re defending your Big Blind and check-call the flop. If the turn goes check-check, this is ripe for a bluff.

Hopefully, you can incorporate this advice into your own poker game and improve your long-term results in this spot. The best way to truly incorporate any new knowledge is to practice. You can do so by taking advantage of the freerolls and low-stakes games, which can usually be found on online poker platforms such as Natural8. So, why not create a free account with Natural8 today and start playing?