Bluffing is an important part of a well-rounded poker strategy. However, bluffing should not be overdone. In television and movies, it seems like you see people making huge, all-in bluffs with everything on the line about once or twice a hand. In practice, bluffing is a much less glamorous part of poker strategy.
Small bluffs take place all the time in regular poker games. You might bluff before the flop with a trashy hand when trying to steal the blinds; you might bluff by placing a continuation bet on the flop even though you missed; and other times you just might attempt one of those big, scary all-in bluffs on the river.
Bluffing helps you in three major ways:
- It keeps your opponents off guard. Bluffing makes it easier to get paid on your big hands. If your opponents know you are capable of bluffing, they are more likely to call bets from you when you have legit hands.
- It wins pots that you wouldn’t be able to win otherwise. Hey, free money!
- Bluffing makes it harder for other people to exploit your game. If you always play a perfectly straightforward game, your opponents always know how to play against you. However, this only applies in games where the opponents are somewhat aware. In most low stakes games, it doesn’t matter how straightforward you play.
Bluff with a Purpose
Every single one of your bluffs should have a concrete, specific purpose. And it has to be more than just “oh I want the pot.” You need to have a good reason to attempt any bluff. For example, a good reason would be “the players in the blinds are weak and scared, so I’m going to raise any two cards the next time I have the button.” Not only have you picked a good reason to bluff, but it also appears you have picked the right opponents.
Big bluffs on the river should also serve a specific purpose. Sometimes, your reason may be as simple as “the player I’m against always folds on the river.” Other times, your bluff may be to build a frightening table image. If you get caught it will sting, but at least your opponents will never know what to expect.
Hint – Don’t make big bluffs for table image in small stakes games. Millions of people play small stakes poker every day on the internet and nobody will remember you five minutes from now. Plus, small stakes poker games are easy enough that you do not need to establish a reckless table image to get your opponents to call your bets.
Choose Your Opponents Wisely
You do not want to bluff poker players who are complete fish or calling stations. First of all, you’ll probably get called and lose your money. Secondly, bluffing these opponents doesn’t serve much of a purpose. You might get lucky and win the pot, but that’s about it. It’s not like calling stations pay attention to your table image.
Other players are much better targets for bluffing. Rocks and extra tight players are great to bluff before the flop and on the flop because these players are already looking for reasons to fold. Unimaginative tags are good to bluff on the turn and river because they get scared making calls for big money with marginal hands.
Sophisticated and skilled opponents are a mixed bag as far as bluffing targets go. On one hand, these players know how to spot bluffs and are not afraid to make tough calls. On the other hand, these players will make note of it if you make a big bluff.
It is scary to bluff skilled opponents, but you need to do it sometimes. If you never bluff against good players, they will eventually catch on and realize you play a straightforward game. All they would have to do in that case is bet into you as often as they can (steal your pots) and fold when you bet (avoid your made hands). You have to mix it up when playing against skilled players.
It Doesn’t Make Money if it Doesn’t Make Sense
Any time you make a bluff, your opponent will look at your betting patterns from the beginning of the hand and try to figure out if your bet makes sense. It is important that you tell a believable story with your actions – otherwise your bluffs will get called more often than they should.
Here’s a pretty basic example of what I’m talking about:
Let’s pretend you have a couple of hearts in your hand and the flop has a couple of hearts. You decide to chase the flush because you think your opponent will pay you off if you hit the draw.
- Your opponent bets on the flop and you call.
- The turn brings a brick and your opponent bets again. You call.
- The river brings another brick and your opponent checks. You make a big bluff in an attempt to win the pot with your missed draw.
- Your opponent instantly calls your bet and you lose a big pot.
- You call your opponent an “idiot fish” and rage-quit the game.
There were two major problems with how this bluff played out. First of all, your actions didn’t add up. You checked and called twice on a two-heart board and then suddenly made a big bet on a blank river. Your opponent is going to look back at the hand and try to figure out what you could possibly have that warrants a big bet on the river.
First of all, your opponent is going to wonder if you were slowplaying something. He knows it’s possible, but he also knows that you probably wouldn’t have wanted to slowplay on a dangerous, draw-prone board. Your checks and calls look suspiciously like a draw. Your big bet on the river is scary (and it might work sometimes), but it’s not a high percentage play.
Secondly, you didn’t have a good purpose or reason for making the bluff. You chased this draw because you thought your opponent would pay you off if you hit. Why were you bluffing an opponent who you predicted would pay you off easily? Not a good target.
Summing It Up
Bluffing plays an important role in your poker strategy, but it is not good to go overboard with it. Make sure you choose your spots and your targets carefully. All bluffs should have a specific purpose. They should have a good target and they should make sense from the beginning of the hand on down to the execution of the bluff.