By BJ VanderWoude
Bluffing in poker is similar to dunking a basketball. Everyone who plays at Full Tilt wishes they could do it, yet there are only the select few who are gifted enough to be able to actually do it. However, unlike dunking, one who practices and is patient enough can be able to bluff if the situation is right. Bluffing is all about the situation; it is psychological warfare at the poker table.
The biggest misconception about bluffing is that bluffing will make you a better player, or win you more money. This can not be further from the truth. I have heard countless times from amateurs saying, “ I could bluff you off of any pot” or “You could never bluff me.” When I hear things like this it makes me laugh for several reasons. Most successful poker players know that bluffing is not something that you set out to do when you play. As a matter of fact, players hope that they don’t put themselves in a position where they have to bluff. With that being said, there are several important factors to consider when trying to bluff an opponent.
First Lesson: Know the tendencies of the person whom you are trying to bluff:
When playing poker, watching other players tendencies such as betting patterns, position at which they call or raise and overall table image is crucial. A player’s table image is very important because most times it will determine how other people play against them. A player with a strong table image of folding hands and betting in good position with premium hands will most likely not get a lot of action at the table, but will pick up small pots very easily. However these are the players that are most susceptible to bluffing. I say this because a player who has no regards for position or strength of hands that they play, will most likely have no regard for their chips either, making them extremely difficult to bluff or lay their hands down. However a player who is tight and selective, will be willing to lay their hand down if they sense strength from their opponent and or the board.
Second Lesson: Leave yourself with outs:
The second most important factor is to always leave yourself with outs. This essentially means that bluffing with an open ended straight draw or four to your flush is a better idea than trying to bluff with pocket twos with a board of A-K 9. This also means that attempting a bluff on the river, or with no cards to come is not a good idea for most beginners. Remember, the reason why you are bluffing is because you have either picked up a tell on another player and or you sense weakness coming from your opponent. One easy way to look at this is by watching betting patterns.
Say you’re playing NL hold em, with blinds that are 25-50. A player raises 350 preflop and you call. The board comes 2-J-10. He leads out and bets 125, this should automatically send off sirens in your head. He went from betting 8x’s the big blind to betting roughly 1/7th of the pot. Say your holding Q-K. This is the perfect time to bluff, or what’s called a semi-bluff. Most likely if you raise him the size of the pot, you have a great chance of taking down the hand right there, and if he calls, you are still even money to win this hand with an open ended straight draw with two over cards. I find that these situations are usually the best time to bluff, because you are leaving yourself with outs if he does call, and you have also picked up a suspicious tell on his betting tendencies.
Third Lesson: Never let poker get personal:
The last rule of bluffing is to never let it get personal at the poker table. This is true in all aspects of poker, yet should be highly associated with bluffing. When a player spikes your top set with a gutshot straight draw on the river, the worst thing that you can think is “ I want to get my chips back from that guy.” First off it will lower your concentration of getting chips from everyone else at the table, and will also alter your decision making in favor of making a big hand against that particular opponent. This is where you will be staring down the barrel of weak cards in a big hand. In this situation the revenge laden player will attempt to pull of a bluff to get “his” chips back, and in most cases the other players will notice him steaming and not give him credit for big hands anyway. Remember, poker is a game off skill and odds, and when it becomes personal both will deplete rapidly.