Bluffing in Poker Tournaments

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Bluffing in MTTs

The concept of tournaments is to build your chip stack as much as possible. Bluffing is an essential part of every tournament whether it’s stealing the blinds, re-stealing, limp-shoving or other tactics.   In my opinion you shouldn’t be bluffing in the early stages of start of a tournament because the pots are too small.  Most players are tight in the early stages and will only be entering pots with premium hands, which makes fold equity smaller.

The rules for bluffing in a tournament are simple:  Bluff pots with good value/minimal risk/the least chops required/in position/strong table image and most importantly against a bluffable opponent. 

Bluffing Out of Position

Bluffing out of position is a massive disadvantage and should be avoided.  When you’re blind stealing you want to do it from mid-late position including the Cut Off point.  (There’s still debate about stealing pots from UTG and earlier positions – some people say it’s unprofitable and others argue if anything it works better because it shows greater strength.)  If you want to bluff on the blinds, you need to either re-raise/re-steal.  Or if you have a premium hand on the blinds you should be limp-shoving on a loose-agressive table to trap opponents who have a high RFI% aka steal a lot from CO (use a tournament indicator HUD to work these out).

Best Opponents to Bluff Against

Tight players are the best category to work against i.e. those with a VPIP below 15% and those who fold to many raises.  For this, I’m looking for a cbet/f% or PRF/F%.  Tight players are the most exploitable on the blinds and you should always try stealing from MP-LP f this is the case. Alot of the time when you make obvious steals a TAG player will still not call you.  Tight players only play or call raises for their top 15% of premium hands (including AA/AK). 

Small-stack players are also good to bluff against however you need to make sure you get your chips in first.  If he’s first to act, he’s more likely to shove all-in.  An opponent with M < 10 can only move all-in or fold pre-flop, they don’t have enough time to take chances limping. .  Small stack players will aim to jam their stack in as early as possible.  If players have raised infront of them then they’re unlikely to shove. 

Worst Opponents to Bluff Against in a Tournament

Loose-agressive players with a VPIP above 20% and AG > 1.0 are the hardest to read.  Bluffs against deep stack opponents (40xBBs+) also have far less fold equity.  Loose agressive players will defend themselves against your continuation bets by floating or even re-raising from position, hoping to catch you out on a later street.  This lowers the fold equity of bluffs and requires commiting bigger proportions of your stack.  If you’re going to bluff against these players, you need relative position in order to make bluffs more profitable and keep initiative in the hand.

Another disadvantage bluffing against LAGs is knowing whether you’re infront or behind.  This can require 3barreling  (where  as against a tighter opponent he would have folded already).  You’re never working out a LAG opponent’s hand with just one pre-flop raise, hence bluffing against a loose tournament player is more costly.  In conclusion, it’s not impossible to bluff against looser players in a tournaments; it’s just simply harder and more unprofitable.

Tournament Hands to Bluff With

Bluff with live cards that have many outs or decent implied odds.  If you decide to bluff with something like K5 in a tournament it’s likely you’re kicker can be beaten.  Live cards however give you more outs and implied odds.  Betting with 56 suited for example is far better than A10 because even though A10 has a higher absolute strength the potential of winning a pot with a pair or flush of 5s or 6s is greater than winning with an A (where you’ll be dominated by a better kicker such as AJ).  In the Poker Bluprint you’ll see that A5 has more value than A6 because of the ability to make a straight.

It is also paramount when bluffing to commit properly or not bother at all.  A triple barrel bluff will be ten times more successful than a pre-raise raise and check/call to river.  It’s also more likely an opponent who calls your bluff on the flop has nothing (possibly 30% of the time) so you need to act strongly when you bluff.

One Response to “Bluffing in Poker Tournaments”

  1. Taylor says:

    Thanks for the interesting read about bluffing and poker tournaments. It’s kind of good to know that you should commit properly to the bluff or else it doesn’t work well. If this is the case, it’s probably important to practice your bluffing skills sot that you can use them well when the time comes for the tournament.