Here, we’re going to talk about the basic ins and outs of bluffing. I’m going to assume you’ve read the basic rules and strategies, pot and hand odds, and poker tells. Bluffing and reading bluffs are two of the most exciting aspects of poker. You aren’t playing a set percentage; you aren’t crunching probability numbers in your head. You’re trying to trick your opponent into thinking something that’s not true. This is a difficult thing to do. There’s no set way to bluff. Every situation will be different. It will depend on the type of player you’re trying to bluff, or how many there are, what the flop is, what’re they doing during their bet turns, etc. Bluffing is more an art than a science.
I’m going to lay out a few basic bluffing scenarios, techniques, strategies, and rules of thumb. These aren’t definitive rules. They’re merely guidelines to help you understand what bluffing is and what can be done with bluffing.
The way you bluff someone is by betting a large amount of money with a marginal hand, in hopes that they think you have a hand superior to their own. Basically, you’re trying to scare them into folding. Bluffing is a more risky thing to try than other strategies might be. You really have to know your opponents and be able to get into their heads. If someone calls your bluff, you can be out a good chunk of money. However, if your bluff is successful, you’ve just won the pot with a weak hand.
Bluffing in online poker is slightly different from bluffing in real poker. In online poker, you’re unable to study the player’s face and body movements. You can’t even begin to pick up physical tells online. However, this also works for you, as your opponents aren’t able to read you either. This doesn’t mean you can’t bluff, it’s just different.
One thing you should try to do when bluffing is use tells. For example, try using the auto-raise button. Everyone knows that this is a sure sign of having a great hand. You’ll be able to come up with other tells to use as the situation warrants. Always remember, though, that this works both ways. The next time somebody starts auto-raising you, think hard as to whether or not he could be bluffing.
Limit game bluffing isn’t quite as effective as no-limit. This is especially true in low-limit games. For example, if you’re playing in a $3/$6 game and try to bluff someone by raising $3, lots of people will call you out. In no-limit, though, bluffing is much more effective and much more dangerous. You can move a huge pile of chips, even going all-in, to convince them that you have a great hand and they should fold to it.
Let’s talk about stealing the pot and its implications and dangers. This is a basic bluffing strategy that many players will try to use. Let’s say you’re playing a $5/$10 game. There was some light betting in the first round before the flop. You have the button, and are last to act. You call their bets, and the flop hits. The betting goes around, but everybody left in the game just checks. It gets to you, the last one.
Here’s where you might be able to steal the pot. If everyone’s just checking, it suggests that the flop did nothing for them, and they’re hoping for some kind of draw. Or else maybe they only have the low pair on the table. Whatever the reason, they don’t want to bet on their hand’s chance of winning. So, the betting comes down to you. You can try to steal the pot by making a bet like you had top pair, or pocket aces, or whatever. You can steal whatever’s in the pot by making them think you have one of those hands. Of course, they could be trying to check-raise you. Such is the risk of trying to steal the pot.
Here’s an example of how it might go:
Let’s say you’re on the button in a $3/$6 Texas Holdem game, and the flop just came down. Nobody raised pre-flop, and only 3 other people called. You’re holding J-9 of diamonds. The flop is 2-6-K. The two is a heart, and the six is a club; the king is a spade. The betting goes around, and everyone keeps calling, nobody’s betting. Since none of them bet, you assume that nobody is holding anything higher than a pair of 8’s. Certainly, nobody would be holding a king, or else they would’ve bet. So, it comes down to you. There’s $12 in the pot, $3 of it yours. If you can bluff and steal the pot 1 out of 4 times, you’ll be breaking even.
So, it’s your turn to bet. You think you can steal this pot. You bet $3. If all the players fold, you’ve just netted $9 in profit off of a marginal hand. Obviously, this doesn’t work all the time, so you need to be careful.
Let’s say that what happens, much to your dismay, is only two of the players fold. One of them calls. The turn flops a 5 of hearts. Now what do you do? There are two hearts showing. Could the other player have a flush draw? Or perhaps a pair of fives? Even if that player now has a pair of 5’s, he has you beat. Even if his hand is 2-7 offsuit, he has you beat with a pair of deuces. What if, instead of calling, he’d raised you? He could have a king in his hand and only checked so he could check-raise you. Or is he simply trying to out-bluff you? This is quite a dilemma.
This is where it’s necessary to know your player and know your odds. If he’s the type of player who’d try to check-raise you, you may just want to fold and accept the loss of $6. If he likes to bluff, he may be holding nothing. Also, are the chances that the river will flop a J or 9 good enough to bet on? It’s tough to figure out what the wisest course of action is. Obviously, if you like to play it safe, fold; if you’re more of a gambler, keep going with it and re-raise him. Only by knowing the player could you have any insight as to what’s really going on.
Another thing to consider is that, even if your bluff is called (and some will be no matter what), that can still work for you. Let’s say someone does call your bluff. You lose a good chunk of money because of it. However, now the other players will be uncertain if you ever raise whether or not it’s a bluff. So if you have a really great hand and start betting like crazy, some players might call you on it, thinking you’re bluffing.
If you’re more a tight, conservative player, bluffing is a great strategy. If you only raise with a terrific hand, and the other players know it, they’re more apt to fold to heavy betting. This makes bluffing a much more viable weapon.