Bluffing is an important element of poker, and one that adds an air of excitement to this crazy game we all love. Everyone loves seeing a bluff work when a player spins a yarn that ultimately results in their opponent folding the best hand. It is one of the more glamorous moves available to you at the poker table, but one that many players overuse or utilize incorrectly.
A bluff is essentially a lie designed to make your opponent fold a hand that is better than your current holding, or one that could go on to outdraw your hand. Knowing when to bluff and how to do it is crucial to your ongoing success in poker because it is impossible to always have the best hand. You need to bluff in order to win chips even when you have a weak holding. Anyone can bluff but not everyone can do it well, as the WPT Global Blog recently highlighted.
“Being able to bluff is what makes poker a game of skill, and knowing when to bluff and when not to bluff is what separates the good players from the bad players.”
The art of bluffing requires you to balance the frequency of your bluffs and value bets so that your opponents do not know if you have the good or have your hand in the cookie jar. In addition, a good bluffer is observant, has solid hand-reading ability, and knows when their opponent is strong or weak; at least most of the time. It is rarely a good time to bluff if your opponent has a strong range of hands that have connected with the board. You should target the polar opposite of this situation.
“Instead, try to bluff when you think your opponent’s range is weaker than average. For example, if they take an extremely passive line throughout the hand, it’s likely they don’t have a monster, as strong hands will often try to build the pot.”
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Two Main Types of Bluff
Typically, there are main bluff types: the semi-bluff and pure or stone-cold bluff. A semi-bluff is usually made with a hand that has a chance, even if that chance is small, of improving to the best hand. For example, you may raise the flop with the nut flush draw, or a straight draw. Semi-bluffing on such a board is not a disaster if your opponent calls because you have the opportunity to hit one of your outs, improve your hand’s strength, and win a larger pot because your opponent will not likely put you on a draw.
Pure, stone-cold bluff are not for the faint-hearted because you run the risk of losing a significant percentage of your stack if you are called because your hand is ridiculously weak. Such an example would be raising the flop with seven-deuce offsuit when the flop reads ace-king-queen all spades. Stone-cold bluffs may be high risk but there is a place for them in your arsenal. For example, check-calling on the flop and turn only to lead out with complete air when a straight or flush-completing cards appears on the river.
How to Spot a Bluff at the Tables
It is sometimes easy to spot a bluff at the tables, but some players are highly skilled in this department and disguise their bluffs perfectly. The whole premise of a bluff is that nobody likes to look stupid, so calling what you think is a bluff only for your opponent to roll over a strong hand can be embarrassing.
You need to be an observant player to pick off bluffs with any degree of accuracy. “Does their line make sense” is the first question you should ask yourself when trying to deduce if a bet is a bluff or not.
“This means thinking through the whole hand up until this point to see if the hand or range of hands they’re representing makes sense given the previous action. The less a hand makes sense, the more likely it is that they’re bluffing.”
Knowing how your opponents like to act helps you to spot bluffs in poker. A weaker, recreational player’s line may look like a bluff but it could just be a case that they do not really know what they are doing. Likewise, a tricky opponent can make their hand look like a bluff in order for you to make a play for the pot or pay off a bet with a second-best hand.
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Pay close attention to your opponents’ bet sizes in different situations. Many players have a standard-size bet when they are betting for value. However, they bet smaller or larger when they are bluffing. They bet smaller to potentially lose fewer chips if you call, or bet larger to try scare you away from the call button.
“You’ll need to watch your opponents carefully to see if you can spot sizing tells like these, as they’re different for each player. Paying close attention can also help you pick up other tells on your opponent, whether it’s their body language, how they put their chips in, or how they look at their cards.”
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