The old poker adage goes, “If you can’t beat them, bluff them.”
But while bluffing might come second nature to a seasoned pro (we’re looking at you, Will Kassouf), it doesn’t always come naturally to others. For many, bluffing means taking unnecessary risks. But this needn’t be the case.
The reality is that bluffing is a necessary part of poker. If you are to take chips off weaker players and exploit tight playing styles – not to mention warding off aggressive players from your own stack — you need to add bluffing to your game.
Looking for some advice? Here are five pockets of wisdom to help you become a better bluffer.
Avoid bluffing against novices
Inexperienced players are impulsive betters, who often call in situations where more experienced players would pass. Their unreasoned– and often erratic – moves make bluffing extremely difficult, as novices will more often than not be willing to call off large chunks of their stack with mediocre hands. They will also be more prone to overvaluing hands and making loose, hero calls.
While this can sometimes work to your advantage against calling stations – by extracting value when you think they are floating the flop or chasing a draw –most pros would advise avoiding bluffing against players who rarely fold or don’t know what they’re doing. As David Mamer once said, “you can’t bluff someone who’s not paying attention.”
Pick your moments carefully
The key to a good bluff is timing. You should pick your moments carefully by firstly establishing who is playing tight or loose, aggressive or passive, and then tailor your bluffs to those particular players. Putting in a bluff against a loose aggressive player, for instance, could be futile, whereas an occasional pre-flop raise in late position against a tight player could be an effective way to steal blinds. Just don’t go overboard.
Bluff less on later streets
A good rule of thumb in Texas Hold’em is to bluff less on later streets. The reason for this is because your bluffing range is at its strongest pre-flop, but quickly diminishes as the hand progresses. Imagine you have a pair of suited connectors pre-flop. Now, you could represent something stronger, potentially putting in a raise or a 3-bet pre-flop. However, if you were to miss the flop and your opponent continues to call as you approach the river, your bluffing range will have far less equity against the hands the other player continues with.
If you do find yourself in this position, ask yourself this: would your opponent really be calling on multiple streets with a weak hand? In these moments, remember the wise words of Dan Reed, who said, “You will show your poker greatness by the hands you fold, not the hands you play.”
Bluff in position
Anyone who has sat down at a poker table will know the importance of position. This is the weapon of choice for many seasoned bluffers, as it allows them to make informed decisions based on the actions of their opponents.
So, for instance, if you were playing against two opponents who had checked both the flop and turn on a scary-looking board, you may want to use this as an opportunity to put in a raise and steal the pot. Likewise, if you are sat on the button (in late position) and the action checks round to you, you could put in a raise against the small and big blinds to try and steal their chips. This is a common tactic used around the bubble, when players begin to tighten up in an effort to make the money.
Just a word of warning, though: don’t do this too often, as the BB and SB will likely become wise to what you’re doing and play back at you. It’s situations like these where many novices get dragged into pots with poor hands. Instead, you should seriously consider throwing away your hand.
Consider your table image
Have you been playing lots of pots, putting in raises and pushing people off hands? If so, you should carefully consider your table image. In this scenario, you may want to avoid over-bluffing, as other players will likely take advantage of your loose style and try to trap you when they have a premium holding.
If, on the other hand, you’ve developed a tight table image (often called a “nit”) and avoided playing many pots, you could use this to your advantage by representing a strong hand when you’re weak. Considering your table image and how others perceive you will help you to make bluffs at the right time and against the right people.
Do you have a particular bluff that you like to boast about? Tell us in the comments, below, or put your newfound knowledge to the test at Grosvenor Poker.