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Bluffing in Poker

One of the more difficult skills to learn in the game of poker is bluffing. In order to pull off the successful bluff, you need to represent a hand that is far better than it actually is, in an effort to get your opponents fold. The science behind bluffing is simple. In most poker games, there are cards private to you known as hole cards. As far as your opponents are concerned you could hold anything. Much of the game comes down to how you represent your hand. As your opponents don't know what you have, they can only go on what they see.

Bluffing Players look at many aspects of your game to try and work out how strong your hand is. There are too many to list here however key tells are a players mannerisms, table talk, levels of nervousness, bet sizes, confidence and level of aggression. It is therefore possible for players to fake some of these signs to make players believe they are stronger than they are – bluffing.

Bluffing successfully is largely dependent upon representing hands that are possible to be made, given the cards on show. For me, painting a picture in anything we do in life, adds weight to any story. A successful bluff has to make sense, first and foremost. Second to that, it has to be believable. A player can paint a picture in terms of how they put chips into the pot, how much the bet and what they do (visible to other players). This is absolutely key and building a credible story around your play will increase the success rate of your attempted bluffs. Additional to this, if you do not change gears frequently, the bluff has to suggest you hold cards within your starting hand range.

To put it into context, let’s look at a common example. A tight player at your table posts a 3X pre flop raise. Knowing how tight he is, you have his range pegged to face cards or a pair. You hold a highly unimpressive 7-2 off. You call to the flop. The flop comes 5-8-2 rainbow. Your continuation opponent bets and you decide to re-raise. This is a great flop to bluff. It is very likely he missed the flop. Knowing that he plays strength pre flop and the fact there's a good chance that he didn't connect with the 8 high flop - does it matter you hold 7-2? Your bet will do two jobs. It will test the water and see if he did connect - possibly holding 2-2, 5-5, 8-8 or an over-pair. Secondly it will push him out of the pot on premium pre flop hands such as AX.


Types of Bluff

There are three key types of bluff that can be made. There is the stone cold bluff, the semi bluff and what is known as the quick bluff. A stone cold bluff is the riskier of the three. In this bluff, it's an out and out bluff. There would be no cards that could come that could make you your hand (no outs). This is complete bluff aimed at winning the pot - not on improving your hand. It looks great when you pull it off however you can be left a little red faced when it doesn’t work out.

The semi bluff is safer. It is called a semi bluff as there's the added possibility to improve to a winning hand. Whilst you are taking a risk of being called, if you are called, you still have cards in the deck that could give you the win - and so twice the opportunity to win the hand. Very often stone cold bluffs will be larger and more aggressive.

A quick bluff is by far the more typical of all bluffing and is often associated with ‘Small Ball Poker’. These are in essence semi bluffs in which you make small bets to win relatively small pots, however with a degree of success higher than the Stone Cold bluff. These smaller stabs at the pot can look strong. Played right, they can look like you have a strong hand and are trying to build the pot.


When to Bluff in Poker

When done sparingly, there is heightened potential to easily steal pots or blinds. If you do it too often, players will get a read on you and begin to defend more. Remember, no player likes to look like the small cheese - especially from behind the safety of their computer screen.

Often, tight players are the best to bluff against as they are extremely selective in the hands they will play. When a player of this caliber is in the hand and not betting, they are usually looking for reasons to fold. Posting a raise gives them that reason.

A players starting hand range is important. You should bluff when the board cards don't look like they have connected with a players range. You should also only bluff when there are no more than 3 in the pot as it's less likely to get through.

Bluff at pots that have the pot to justify the bluff. There is no point bluffing with a bet of £200 to win £20. Bet sizing is important.


Situations to avoid Bluffing

There are time when it isn’t smart poker to try to bluff. They are:

- When you have recently been caught. Players will be more likely to call you knowing now that you bluff
- When you are bluffing a lot. If players expect you to bluff, you are more likely to be called (simply for being a fish)
- When up against more than 2 players. The more players still in the hand, the less likely the bluff is to come off
- When the pot doesn’t justify the play (it isn’t big enough)
- When the board doesn’t support the play – you will often be called with very marginal hands, which can look even worse
- Against dangerous looking flops
- Against bad players (especially in low limit games) – players are not good enough to realize that they should fold
- If you have just lost a big pot – players are more likely to put you on tilt than believe you have hit a hand

- You are playing limit games. Whilst bluffing is still possible, you will get called far more because there is a cap on what players can lose (they will chase cards far more).


An unsuccessful Bluff

While getting caught in a bluff can wreck the nerves of a player there is always an upside or two. Getting caught in a bluff allows the table to know that you have the balls to bluff. Yes, it also tells them you don't always have a hand however this can be used to your advantage. Once players expect you to be bluffing, which is particularly true when you have been caught with your hand in the cookie jar - there is additional value to be gained when you actually hit a hand.

If you watch the top online players, you will notice that their betting patterns are the same whether they hold KK or 7-2 pre flop. It is very difficult to differentiate between a big hand and a bluff - this is one of the key reasons they earn more on their big hands whilst getting more bluffs through.


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