Poker bluffing is something that a lot of people talk about, but few do properly. In this article we’ll explain what poker bluffing is and how you can do it effectively. Let’s start with the easy bit, which is the explanation...
Poker bluffing can be defined as pretending to have a hand that you really don’t have. For example, when you play poker, you might have two poor hole cards but pretend that you have a really strong hand in order to try and get your opponents to fold. Or you might have two great hole cards and a genuinely strong hand, in which case you could use poker bluffing to pretend to have a hand that is much weaker so that your opponents sense your weakness and put more money in the pot.
Knowing when to bluff in poker and when to simply play the cards you have been dealt is a key to poker bluffing success. Bluff in poker too often and eventually you will be discovered. When that happens nobody at the table will take you seriously and your unsuccessful poker bluffing attempts will cost you dearly. Fail to bluff in poker at all and you’ll miss out on a technique that could be helping you to bring down some nice pots.
Okay, now that we’ve got the definition out of the way, how do we bluff in poker effectively? That’s a tricky question to answer, because every player has their own approach to poker bluffing and you will eventually develop your own. That said, we can provide some general pointers on when seasoned players tend to use poker bluffing so that you can consider doing the same:
General Pointers for the Bluff in Poker
1 – When there are few opponents
If there are only a few of your opponents involved in the hand, the chances of someone having a great hand are smaller than if all the players were involved. You can therefore bluff strength and hope that the few opponents have nothing and fold. Of course, if the people you are playing against suspect you of poker bluffing, they may well call you, so don’t go crazy with this approach. Whilst it’s perfectly reasonable to try poker bluffing and then backtrack when you realise someone has a good hand, it’s just foolish to continue bluffing in a poker hand when you know you’re beat.
2 – When your opponents are tight
Tight players only pay to stay in a hand when they have good cards, so if you’re up against tight players you can try poker bluffing pre flop and many of them will fold. Of course, if a tight player calls you it makes to exercise caution, as he could well have something to beat you.
3 – When draws have missed
If you get to the river and an obvious drawing hand has missed you can think about poker bluffing, especially if you have an Ace in the hole or a small pair. Some players will call all the way down to the river with nothing more than a hope of making a straight or flush, so if you think your opponents have done this and missed the draw, poker bluffing could get them to fold and admit defeat.
4 – When you’re on the button
If you’re on the button (the last to act) and everyone else has checked, you can bet in the hope that some or all of your opponents will fold. Where your only opponents are the small and big blinds, poker bluffing might allow you to steal those blinds. But be careful, if some players think you are stealing they will call you just for the sake of it, in which case you need to avoid poker bluffing and play the cards you are dealt.
5 – When the flop shows a pair
If the flop shows a pair and you are in late position with no other bets coming from other players, you could consider poker bluffing so that your opponents think you’ve made a set (three of a kind). This is known by many as “adopting the orphans”. The same poker bluffing tactic can be used after the turn when the board shows four cards of the same suit (in which case you’re presenting a flush) or four cards to a straight, but the chances are higher that you will be called with such drawing hands, or beaten hollow by someone who is slow-playing a ready-made hand.
Spotting the poker bluffers
Knowing the best times to consider poker bluffing is one thing, but how can you tell when your opponents are poker bluffing you? Well the most obvious starting point is to consider the hand from their point of view. Would you bluff in their position?
• Are you one of just a few opponents?
• Are you and the other opponents playing tight?
• Has an obvious drawing hand been missed?
• Is he on the button with no previous bets?
• Did the flop include a pair?
These are all circumstances in which you might be tempted to bluff in poker yourself, so expect your opponents to consider doing the same. If you think a player is bluffing and you only have a drawing hand, you might want to simply call. If you have a good hand already, re-raise them. You should of course take pot odds into account when making any of these decisions, but if you think things through logically you will often be able to spot those who bluff in poker, especially if they aren’t very good at it.
A semi-bluff is a poker bluffing tactic used when you have a hand that could be improved. For example, if you have A3 diamonds in the hole and the flop is 45 diamonds and 5 clubs, you could bluff a set of 555. If the turn or river is a diamond then you have an Ace high flush – enough to beat a player who really does have 555 or who happened to be chasing a king high flush.
Of course, poker bluffing always involves an element of risk, and semi-bluffs can also go wrong. Consider what would happen if you bluffed a set of 555, hit a diamond on the turn and – believing you were in control – started betting heavily. In that case you could get wiped out if your opponent had a full hours or four of a kind all along. Being aware of this kind of risk will ensure that you semi-bluff sensibly rather than going in with all-guns-blazing.
When To Avoid Bluffing
There are times when it is sensible to avoid the bluff in poker, and knowing about these can prevent you from losing money. The times we recommend that you avoid poker bluffing are:
When you’ve been exposed
If you have been exposed as a player who bluffs, you should avoid poker bluffing until you have repaired your reputation, because nobody will take you seriously. On a more positive note, if you have a great hand you can make a bluff-sized bet knowing that your previous exposure will encourage your opponents to call you.
When the flop looks risky
It makes sense to avoid poker bluffing when the flop looks particularly risky. For example, if the flop is QKA then you’d have to be very brave to bluff with nothing because not only could your opponents have one or more high pairs, they could also have a ready made straight. If you value your chips, poker bluffing in this situation isn’t a good idea.
When you have lots of opponents
The more players you try to bluff against, the more likely you are to get caught out by someone with a real hand, so don’t try poker bluffing if the majority of players are still in the hand.
When you are playing with maniacs
Maniacs are poker players who are prepared to call any bet and go all the way to the showdown in the hope of pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Since these players never fold, trying to bluff them is never effective.
When you’re on a losing run
If you have lost several hands your opponents will be expecting you to “tilt”, which means bet more than your hands merit. Poker bluffing in this situation is as futile as bluffing when you’ve been exposed, so don’t do it.
Poker bluffing is a very useful tool, but only when you use it sensibly in the right situations. Use the guidelines presented here to bluff in poker and you will avoid many of the mistakes that get people into trouble.