Bluffing is what people who don’t even play poker think that the game is all about. Their only experience is from hands replayed on ESPN which don’t show how the game is really played.
When we start playing though, we are told to play tight and not to try and bluff fish. The problem here is that we end up only playing half of the game. It’s also true that you can bluff fish, you just have to pick your spots carefully and against the right opponents.
Many micro stakes players find themselves in a trap, unable to make it to small stakes and wondering why. After all, they are following the standard advice of playing tight and concentrating on value betting. Their issue is that they are missing out on so much profit.
What Do We Exactly Mean By Bluffing?
It is true that at all the lower stakes most of the money comes from value betting. This means that you expect to have the best hand most of the time and your opponent can continue with a worst hand. Simple, but if we rely on only this to make our profit then we encounter a few problems.
Firstly, just about everyone has a HUD these days, and they can see who is playing in this way. If you’re the guy that ALWAYS has it, then you’re just not going to get paid often enough.
The other issue is that you’re not preparing yourself to move up in stakes. To move up in the world of poker you must challenge yourself with concepts that you don’t fully know how to use. You must eventually learn, so why not from the very start of your poker career?
Bluffing comes in a few different flavours, except on the river where you either have it or you don’t. Here are some.
- The “No Equity Bluff” - Where you have no chance whatsoever of winning the pot at a showdown.
- Semi-Bluff - This is where you have a draw of some kind and expect to hit it often enough combined with the amount of folds you get to make a profit.
- The Lack of Interest Bluff - Here it looks like nobody else is interested in the pot and you might choose to take a stab on the river after no bets have gone into the pot post-flop.
While learning when you should be attempting a bluff you must always consider your table image. After all, if you’ve been the guy running roughshod over the table for the last hour, do you think people will believe you? Table image is all about the other players perception of you and will influence how they react to your decisions. This usually starts with the hands you show down, but in the live arena it takes into account even the clothes you turn up to play in.
It’s also worth mentioning at this point that if you know you are a totally unknown player to your opponents then you have an ideal opportunity to take advantage. You can use how the game has flowed in conjunction with those few hands to deceive the other players.
For example, if you’ve started off running terrible then other players might try to prey on you if you appear to have been making tight folds, when in reality you’re just running like garbage. Now you can counter bluff them knowing they might well be bluffing more often than usual.
This is all much more important in cash games than tournament where you are shifted from table to table too often to pick up many solid reads on unknown players. And also beware of thinking too deeply about your image if your opponents not thinking players themselves.
The Key to Learning How to Bluff
When picking a spot to bluff you must first know if whatever hand you are representing is a credible story. Beginners usually start off firing random three-barrel bluffs purely in the hope everybody folds. This is a recipe for disaster.
The first step is to understand hand ranges. When you know what hands are possible for any players in the hand then it’s possible to make a qualified decision if you can credibly represent a monster hand. As the turn and river peel off you must also know how this changes the ranges for each player. Having a range advantage makes it much more likely that your bluffing exploits will be successful.
Range advantage works in harmony with your actual equity in the hand before the river. The more equity you have against your opponent’s range the less frequently your bluffs need to work as you can always make a stronger hand.
Play the Whole Game
Nitting it up might stop you from losing much money but in today’s games you’ve got to be doing everything you can if you want to make any meaningful money. Don’t fall into the trap of playing like a newbie from 2005 thinking it will work over the long term. Dynamic exciting play is what will keep your motivation piqued and have you itching to move up where the decision making is richer and more interesting.