Bluffing At The Poker Table - What To Take Into Consideration When Bluffing
The popularity of the television coverage the large no limit tournaments have lead to a lot of misconception about the frequency of bluffing in poker games. Showing bluffs are big drama and make for very exciting entertainment in these shows Many spectators get the wrong impression that poker is all about bluffing when in reality it is only a small part of the game.
A bluff is a bet or raise made with a hand that has no chance of winning. The purpose is to win a pot when your hand is not strong enough to do so on it's own. You are essentially representing a big hand when in reality you have nothing. Bluffing is a very valuable weapon to have in your poker arsenal but you should make sure you use it correctly and don't over use it.
The Limits Matter
Bluffing is more prevalent in no limit poker and tournaments because the players are playing their opponents and their stack size. Bluffing does have a place in some limit poker games as well and can be profitable in situations where it is used correctly however in Limit Hold'em you will usually have to show down the best hand. Bluffs work best when you are heads up against another player, especially if the other player is tight.
In most low limit games, bluffing is futile. For an extra dollar of two there is someone who will want to keep you honest. If there is even one calling station in the game you should not attempt to bluff. Players in low limit games also tend to stay if they have caught any part of the flop such as low pair. Trying bluff them out won't work as they will call all the way to the river.
In mid or higher limit games a bluff has a better chance of being successful if the pot is small. Once the pot gets big the players may be getting the correct odds to stay in. You will also have better success in short handed games as there will usually not be a lot of money in the pot and a player on a flush draw may not want to continue because they are not getting the right odds to do so.
Your position is important when you contemplate a bluff. If you are on the button and everyone has folded, you might be able to steal the blinds with a bluff. However you should not try this too often. If you keep raising every time you are on the button the players in the blinds will eventually play back at you. Some players will defend their blinds no matter what they have. If this is the case this type of bluff will not work.
If you are in the blinds in a short handed game and no one has shown any strength before the flop, and the flop has been checked around, you may be able to win with a bet by being the first one to bet. You have a better chance of this working if there are no connecting cards on the board or two suited cards.
When to Bluff
In Hold'em for Advanced Players, Authors Sklansky and Malmuth suggest that you should bluff when you think the size of the pot compared with the probability that your opponent will fold is large enough to make it profitable. If there is $40 in the pot and the bet is $10 you are getting 4 to 1 odds. If you think that your opponent will fold more than once in five times then it will be a profitable play. On the reverse side if your hand can only beat a bluff, you should only call if you think the probability that your opponent is bluffing justifies the pot odds you are getting. Keep in mind that number one rule when attempting a bluff: Your bluff must be believable in order for it to have a chance of working.
Semi-bluffing is a profitable technique that is used instead of an outright bluff. Unlike a bluff when you have nothing, semi-bluffing is done when your hand is not strong enough to win the pot at the time but has the chance of improving to the best hand. If you bet, you are hoping that the other players will fold and you will win the pot without going any further. If you are called then you still have a chance that your hand will improve to be the best hand.
Many semi-bluffing situations will come when you have a flush or straight draw. Betting if you are first to act or raising on the flop could win you the pot or get you a free card.
If you held:
And the flop was:
If you bet and no one else has a king they may figure you for a pair of kings and fold. If you are called you have a pair of sevens that can be beat by anyone holding a king. However you have many ways of improving your hand. There are nine hearts that will make you a flush. There are three aces that will make you two pairs and two sevens that can make you trips or quads and you even have that possibility of a full house if you were to catch another Ace and seven on the Turn and River.
You can use a semi-bluff more than you can a straight bluff as you do have a chance of improving your hand. Just remember you can only do this when there are more cards to come.
Rule of Thumb
Bluffing is a part of the game, but don't get too carried away with it or some other player will end up carrying your chips away from the table. Follow this rule of thumb.
If you often get caught bluffing; You're bluffing too much.
If you never get caught bluffing; You're not bluffing enough.
Until next time, remember:
"Luck comes and goes...Knowledge Stays Forever!"