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BLUFFING

People new to poker are quick to associate it with bluffing and rightly so. Poker’s a game of deceit and it wouldn’t be entertaining to play if everyone played their hands according to their value everybody would fold if someone started raising since they all know the raiser has a strong hand. That’s where bluffing makes poker interesting: you never really know what your opponent’s hand is unless it makes it to the showdown. That element of the unknown is integral to the game’s appeal.

New players tend to bluff more than they should since most beginners think bluffing is a big part of the game and because they see it on television when the player dangerously low on chips at the final table bluffs just to stay in the tournament. Not bluffing at all is just as bad: if you never bluff, people will fold if they see you suddenly raising since you’re too predictable. Those players, on average, win smaller pots than players who bluff. In this section, we’ll explain how to bluff effectively and successfully so you can win pots.

WHAT IS BLUFFING?

Bluffing is when you have a weak or average hand that probably won’t win, but you play it like a strong hand in the hopes of getting everyone to fold so you can win the pot. When people are talking about bluffing, this is usually what they’re referring to.

The advantages to bluffing are many the most obvious is that you can steal a pot with a weak hand. The other is that if you’re caught, players will think that you’re an unpredictable player, which will cast doubt in their minds about your future actions. This is a great position to be in since if you do have the strongest hand and start aggressively raising, they might think you’re bluffing again and will call your raises. You’ll win bigger pots on average because of this, so don’t be afraid to bluff once in a while. Some players will show their hand (even though they don’t have to since there isn’t a showdown) just to let the other players know they bluff.

There is another type of bluffing: bluffing to look weak. This is when you have a very strong hand that you initially play weak (calling bets instead of aggressively raising) so you don’t scare off your opponents into folding you want to keep them in the hand so they continue to put chips in the pot. Remember, if you’re going to try to win the pot, you want to get as much value from your hand as possible. This means you need some people contributing to the pot.

We’ll focus the rest of this article on the other type of bluffing.

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There are several factors you need to consider before attempting to bluff:

PLAYER ABILITY

Since beginner players aren’t good enough yet to recognize that you might have a strong hand if you start aggressively raising, they’ll most likely call your bluff instead of folding. An experienced player will pick up on the raise and may fold if they don’t think their hand is stronger than yours. That said, you should bluff in games with experienced players and not beginners.

Also look for players who have been losing heavily and are getting low on chips. They’re more likely to fold under pressure, making them easy bluffing targets.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS

You’ll have more success bluffing in games that don’t have too many people it’s a lot harder to get a whole bunch of people to fold instead of only one or two. Bluffing is all about odds of winning the hand, and if there are three or more people in the hand, the odds are good that at least one of them will call your bluff and possibly win the pot.

If you’re playing against only one other player, the chance they’ll fold is 50-50, or ½, or 1:1. For each additional person in the hand, the odds go down immensely that your bluff won’t work:

# OF PLAYERS LEFT IN HAND
(EXCLUDING YOU)

ODDS OF WINNING BLUFF

1

1:1

2

3:1

3

7:1

4

15:1

5

31:1

So restrict your bluffing to hands with only one or two players!

POSITION

Also important for successful bluffing is where you’re sitting at the table in relation to the dealer button. If you had to post a forced or blind bet, your opponents have absolutely no idea what your hand is since this doesn’t give them any information about your cards this is a great position to be in for pulling off a bluff.

It’s also easier to bluff when you’re in late position (that’s when you have the dealer button or are sitting a seat or two to the right of it). If nobody has raised before you and there’s only one or two people left in the hand, an aggressive raise might make them fold if they’re holding average-strength hands.

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BETTING STRUCTURE AND STAKES

The betting structure and the size of the stakes influence how likely you are to pull off a bluff. It’s easier to bluff in No-Limit and Pot-Limit games than in No-Limit ones.

In Limit poker games with low stakes, it’s comparatively cheap for players to call bets and stay in the hand, making it harder for you to scare them into folding. Also, beginner players tend to play lower-stakes games, and as mentioned above, you don’t want to bluff new players since they always call. You’re better off playing a straight game in Limit poker and only bluff if you’re playing mind games (establishing yourself as a player who bluffs and is therefore unpredictable).

More experienced players play medium- and high-stakes games. Bluffing in these games is more likely to work since it’s more expensive to stay in the game and players fold more readily so don’t be afraid to bluff a hand or two! As a general rule, the higher the stakes, the better the players, and those are the players that are more attune to your actions and will fold if they think they’re beat.

POT SIZE

You need to think about the size of the pot before bluffing in Limit poker games. Very small pots are usually easy to bluff especially if the other players are taking pot odds into consideration as they know that the odds aren’t in their favor (more on pot odds below). If you want to bluff a small pot, keep it small by not betting on the flop if you can, and then raise heavily on the river most people don’t want to risk the extra chips for a tiny pot.

Medium-sized pots are harder to win as they’re usually made by average players who will probably call your bluff. Unless it’s just you and one other person, be careful with bluffing

Large pots are certainly the most profitable to bluff, and even if you lose a few times, the time you do win will hopefully make up for it. Larger pots are more difficult than small ones to bluff as there is much more money to win at the cost of only a few bets. Again, players who are pot odds-savvy know that it is more favorable to bet on a large pot.

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POT ODDS

A major factor you need to consider before bluffing is the pot odds. You compare the pot odds to your hand odds, and if the pot odds are greater than your hand odds, you should bluff. If they have the same odds, don’t bluff you’ll only end up breaking even in the long run.

For example, if there are five bets in the pot and your hand has a 1 in 5 chance of winning, on average you’ll lose four times, and as long as you win on the fifth try, you’ll end up breaking even as that win covers your previous four loses and the cost of the bet for the fifth hand. You’re not going to win money this way.

The pot size has to big enough to make up for the missed bluffs and earn you a profit of extra chips. In the previous example, this means there needs to be more than five bets in the pot before you attempt any bluff that has a 1 in 5 chance of winning.

If there were only, say three bets in the pot, it’s just not worth bluffing if your hand is only going to win 1 in 5 times you’ll lose money in the long-run bluffing when the pot odds aren’t in your favor.

OVERBLUFFING

The curse of the beginner player: overbluffing. New players to the game tend to overbluff as they think it’s part of how you play the game. It is, of course, but it loses its effectiveness if you do it too much. Excellent poker players bluff infrequently you should take their lead and be stingy with your bluffs. Overbluffing will drain your chips very quickly and if the other players realize you bluff a lot, they’ll call you more and make it harder for you to win with average hands.

CASUAL ATMOSPHERE

When you’re playing in a friendly environment, such as in home and low stakes casino and card room games, the atmosphere is more lively and fun than it is competitive. Players tend to play loose, especially at the beginning of the hand, and will call bets in order to see more cards. By the river, however, some players who know they’re beat will fold under aggressive raises. You should play straight in these games and avoid bluffing unless you’re trying to establish yourself as an unpredictable player.

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GOOD TIMES TO BLUFF

In addition to meeting the criteria already mentioned for successfully bluffing, the following times are also a good time to bluff:

BLUFFING ON A WINNING STREAK

If you’ve been on a roll and have won a few hands in quick succession, now’s a good time to bluff and scoop the pot! Some players are intimidated by people on a winning streak you need to use that fear to your advantage. These players will respect your bets and aggressive raises and are more likely to fold more now than they would normally.

ACE-KING SUITED

If you hold an ace and a king of the same suit and raised on the flop and played the hand aggressively from the beginning, other players will think you have a strong hand even if those two cards don’t complete a hand. In this case, a bluff on the river has a good chance of working.

THE FLOP DOESN’T HELP ANYBODY

If it appeared by everyone’s pre-flop betting activity that they held high cards and the flop shows low cards, you may be able to successfully bluff everyone into folding.

WHEN THE BOARD SHOWS A PAIR ON THE TURN

If the flop shows Q 5 3 and nobody bet and a Q shows up on the turn, you can try to bluff as if you have three Queens since you know nobody else has it if someone else had a Q in their hand, they would most likely have bet after the flop.

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BAD TIMES TO BLUFF:

1. AN ACE IN THE FLOP

If you see an Ace in the flop, there’s a good chance someone has one in their hand. People love to call when they have a pair of Aces, so if you see one show up, don’t bother bluffing you’re going to get called.

2. A JACK OR 10 IN THE FLOP

Good players include high-ranking, consecutive cards as their starting hands (such as KQ), so when a J or a T show up in the flop, there’s a chance they will stay in the game hoping to draw to a straight. If you see either of these cards in the flop, don’t bluff.

3. PREFLOP RAISE

If someone’s raising before the flop’s come down, they might have a seriously strong hand, like paired Kings or Aces. They’re going to call or even raise your bluff, so don’t waste your chips.

HOW TO TELL IF YOUR OPPONENT’S BLUFFING:

1. FAILED DRAW TO A FLUSH

If there are two suited cards in the flop and no other card of the same suit shows up on the river or turn and a player aggressively raises on the river, there’s a good chance they failed to draw to a flush. Their hole cards are probably the same suit as the two suited cards in the flop and were hoping to get a fifth card to complete the flush on the turn or river. When they realized their flush wasn’t going to happen, their only chance to win the pot was to bluff. But now that you’ve read this, you won’t let that happen.

2. FAILED DRAW TO A STRAIGHT

This follows the same idea as a failed draw to a flush, except the two cards in the flop of interest are two consecutively-ranked cards. If no other card on the turn or river can help the other two cards in a straight, there’s a chance your opponent is bluffing if they raise on the river.

3. If a player bets pre-flop and there aren’t any high cards on the board, they’re probably bluffing if they raise on the river.

4. All of the players at some point during the hand have checked if any of them try to raise on the turn or river, you know their hand isn’t worth much and they might be bluffing.

ONLINE BLUFFING

Online bluffing is much, much harder to do than in live games. For that reason, we have an entire section devoted to online bluffing for you to read. PokerStars.com has lots of games and limits both for free and with real money for you to practice your bluffing skills. They also have twenty-four hour live tech assistance to help guide you through downloading and setting up their software if you need help.

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