If you speak to any non poker player about bluffing in poker then they will tend to exaggerate the importance of it. Usually this is caused by poker literature and Hollywood making the concept more important than what it actually is. Do not get me wrong here, poker bluffing certainly has its uses and no more so that in no-limit hold’em where one well timed bet can and will take down the pot.
But novice poker players and non poker players fail to understand that true expertise in poker is arrived at by skilfully balancing many individual concepts of which bluffing just happens to be one of them. Poker bluffing is of no more importance than areas like table selection, bankroll management, using position, good value betting, understanding the maths and any other factor that combines into the making of a good poker player.
However it is important that you bluff in poker and bluff well. The bottom line is that if nobody bluffed in poker then every single player would be dependent on their card strength in order to win a pot. This would essentially make no-limit hold’em nothing more than a card holding contest where the player with the best hand won the pot all the time.
Most of the time though, players will not have got a worthwhile hand or at least they will not have got a hand that can take any heat. The actual betting or raising with chips when you have no hand is the easy part; an absolute beginner can do that. The hard part is selecting the right moments to bluff and also the right players.
We will have a look at a couple of examples here to highlight both good and bad timing in the art of bluffing. This first example has us playing in a $2-$4 no-limit game and the cut-off raises to $14 and the button calls. Both of these players have got $500 stacks. The small blind folds and we have the 8s-6s in the big blind. Here would be a good spot to bluff raise. The original raiser is likely raising on a very wide range from the cut-off.
The caller on the button knows this and has called with a speculative hand to try and use their position to their advantage after the flop. Position is a huge weapon in poker and the button is trying to outplay the cut-off after the flop. If they had a real hand then they would have certainly three bet. So here a three bet by the big blind is based on the apparently weak call by the button and the wide raising range of the
Poker is a game of incomplete information so we cannot be certain that the cut-off or the button for that matter do not have a powerful hand. But we are using probability and our opponent’s actions to guide our bluff. We are also using our opponents stack sizes as well as if the original raiser had a very short stack then the likelihood that they would shove all-in is too large and this nullifies the play.
Let us look at another example of poker bluffing in action only this time, the bluff is badly timed. The UTG player raises to $14 in our NL400 game and the UTG+1 three bets to $50. It is folded around to us and we re-raise with the same 8s-6s to $200 the UTG player folds but the three bettor shoves all-in and we fold losing $200. There was a massive difference here compared to the first example. The original raise came not from the cut-off but from the UTG position and players have far stronger ranges when they open from this seat.
Despite knowing this, the player to their left still re-raised which indicated a very powerful hand. So to launch a bluff in this situation was bad poker and we should have simply folded. I am going to look at another example here of a successful bluff before we move on. You are in the big blind again and it is folded around to the button who open raises to $14 in our NL400 game.
This player has open raised every time it has been folded to them which now equals about half a dozen times in total. We re-raise from the big blind to $55 and the button calls. The flop is J-7-4 and we bet three quarters of the pot on the flop and they fold. You will have noticed that I have not even mentioned our cards in this example. That was deliberate because in this instance we didn’t even look at them. We merely launched a bluffing attempt based on the playing pattern of the button and then merely followed it through with a bet on the flop.
This brings me on to another vital concept of bluffing and that is one of commitment. Quite often poker bluffing involves betting on several streets. As you move up through the levels then single street bluffing will be less effective because your stronger opponents will call you down far lighter than what the players at the lower levels will do. An example may go something like this; we raise form the cut-off with the 9s-8s and are called by the button.
The flop comes 10d-3d-2s and we make a continuation bet into the pot that gets called. The turn card comes and is the 7h giving us nothing but a straight draw and our opponent who actually called us with the A-7 has now picked up a pair on the turn and calls again (obviously we don’t know that they have paired).
The river card is a king and we bet the pot on the end and our opponent thinks for a while and folds. Betting on multiple streets takes nerves and it isn’t something that you can do with a limited bankroll as it massively increases variance but it is an essential part of poker bluffing.