Bluffing in Poker

Published: 06/09/2010
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One of the great appeals of Poker is the possibility of winning on a hand of any rank, no matter how many others are participating in the game. A player need not have the best hand to win. To the contrary, he/she might even have the worst hand dealt. The key is in convincing opponents that they cannot win, so that they willingly drop out of the hand without actually seeing what beat them. This is the essence of the Poker tactic called “bluffing.”

Technically, to “bluff” means “to deter or frighten by pretense or mere show of strength.” It is a form of deception, but it is by no means disallowed by the rules of Poker. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Bluffing is a time-honoured tradition of the game and an important tool in any successful player’s bag of tricks.

In order to bluff, a player must either bet or raise. In some instances a call or check can be used as part of a bluff, attempting to convince the opponents of “sandbagging”—i.e. underplaying a strong hand. However, such occasions are rare enough to warrant little discussion except at the most advanced levels, and the beginning and intermediate level of bluffing are difficult enough to master without adding to the complexity.

Knowing when to bet or raise as a bluff is the art and science of the practice. It is a function of many factors, including who the opponents are, what position the bluffing player is sitting in, chip totals being held, and in tournaments when blinds are raised periodically, the amount of the Big Blind relative to the pot, as well as what actions have been taken in the game previously. As with any deceit, the probability of success in bluffing is extremely situational.

As a general rule of thumb, very tight players are the easiest to bluff because they scare easily. Experienced players are always on the lookout for bluffs and they expect them, so setting up a successful one requires careful planning. Novices, on the other hand, are not always easy to bluff, because they may not know well enough to get out when they hold a “losing” hand. And very loose players are almost impossible to bluff because they insist on seeing every hand all the way to the end

Regarding position, bluffing from “under the gun” or in early positions may be useful for stealing blinds, but it is risky with so many hands coming behind. Bluffs are much easier to pull off from later positions, especially when sitting on the Button or in one of the blinds. The hi-jack and cut-off positions, the two seats ahead of the Button offer limited opportunities.

A player holding a huge pile of chips will usually be more difficult to bluff than one holding a moderate stack. Players close to busting out may be hard to bluff if they feel they have little to lose by playing aggressively, or easy to bluff if playing defensively. Bluffing on a short stack may be necessary sometimes to survive in a game, but it is far easier to create a successful bluff when sitting as the chip leader and the other players are already afraid the challenge.

When playing Texas Hold’em or Omaha, the blinds can influence bluffing. Early on, they are small and players are still getting a sense of one another. That’s when a bluff can serve dual purposes. If it works, it could establish the player as the early leader. If it fails, it doesn’t cost much and may serve as notice that the player is “a bluffer.” Then, when a truly strong hand comes along later, the bluffer may take advantage of opponents’ disbelief and “slowplay” the hand, luring losers to come along for the ride.

Many players, especially those new to the game, think bluffing means “betting big with nothing to back it up.” Actually, betting appropriately for a strong hand is a better strategy, which may include checking after the flop and not betting at all, in preparation for a large bet or raise after the turn. Bluffs work best against a single remaining player and less so against two or more opponents. And as in most things, timing is everything; a bluff against a monster hand will fail every time.

Published on: 06/09/2010

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