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Bluffing in Poker: Introduction

Bluffing is an integral part of poker, and while many know the essentials of it – including those outside poker, it is a crucial skill that few players can master correctly.

What is a Bluff?

A bluff is when you make a bet or value-shove with poor hand, which has the effect of feigning a very strong hand and forcing you opponent to fold.  Importantly, a bluff only has one purpose, to steal pots.  However, while TV and films tend to over-simplify and dramatise bluffs (James Bond in Casino Royale, for example), you need to be aware that bluffs are actually incredibly complex moves that include alot of factors to be successful – such as bet-sizing, player image, table position, stack sizes and board texture to be successful and profitable.

5 Types of Bluff in Poker:

Most people are unaware that there are actually five main types of bluff that can be executed in poker.  I’ve explained and identified each of these bluffs below.

1) The Continuation Bet

This is the most regular bluff you’ll find in online poker, and is one which will earn you alot of money in the micro-stakes tables.  Continuation Bets are when you make a raise pre-flop, get called by one or more opponents, and then bet the flop even if you miss.  A typical continuation bet (aka cbet) should be the size of half-pot to be profitable.  This type of bet is very common in all stakes of poker, and the maths of it means it only has to work 1 in 3 times to break even.  It is profitable because you have to bear in mind your opponent’s will miss the flop completely more than 60% of the time.

2) The ‘Pure Bluff’

This is the bluff everyone has heard of.   It is when you have absolutely nothing -or have missed your draws, so you then decide to make a massive overbet (bet-size greater than the pot) or move all-in to force your opponent(s) to fold. In a pure bluff, a poker player makes a large bet holding nothing – in the hope that the other player will fold to such aggression.  Although the pure bluff seems simple, the risks involved in it are huge (risking a large proportion of your stack) – and as such this should be used very sparingly and only if you’re sure your opponent will fold.  This type of bluff works best against tight poker players since you have better fold equity.  Unfortunately, new poker players tend to overuse this – and as such they will get called far too many times losing them money in the long-run. Remember, a hand of poker represents a story – and if you’ve shown weakness in any of the previous streets than your overbet bluff might not earn you credit.

3) The ‘Semi-Bluff’

This is similar to a pure bluff, however the hand you’re currently holding and bluffing with has an outside chance of winning the pot at showdown. Calculating your odds of being called, as well as your odds of winning are an essential part of this bluff.  For example, imagine I hold the worst hand – an inside straight draw, and my opponent holds three of a kind on the turn.  If I make a bluff now – making it seem as though I have a straight, even if I get called I still have a chance of winning the pot on either the turn or river.  Ultimately, even in an absolute worse position than your opponent, a semi-bluff provides an opportunistic way to steal the pot without risking as much as a pure-bluff.  Obviously many players who are experts in how to bluff in poker will feel they should just try and call for the river; however if you sense weakness in your opponent (if he’s only holding bottom pair for example) then you make money forcing your opponent to fold.  Remember, a typical bet-size for a semi-bluff on the river is about 2/3 – 3/4 of the pot.

4) The Post-Oak Bluff

This move requires the most tactical prowess, story-telling and chicanery.  A post-oak bluff is when you imitate a player with a very strong hand on the river – that is, you make a very small bet to make your opponent think you want him to call. Against very experienced players, a Post-Oak bluff uses reverse psychology to make your opposition think you want him to call – because he sense you are trying to give him such good value.  The outcome is that rather than calling, he simply folds assuming you hold an invincible hand.  Importantly, this cannot work against new or recreational players as it simply won’t work – they won’t have read your hand like a professional and they’ll be too curious to call you anyway.  Reasoning and evaluation of your opponent’s skill is critical here. 

5) The Check-Raise Bluff

This is another really common type of bluff – however rather than feigning a strong hand, you’re actually pretending to have a weak hand to get extra value from callers.  A check-raise bluff is when you check the hand when you’re ahead, and then re-raise your opponent after he raises you.  This bluff works best against loose-agressive players who try to steal lots of pots.  By showing weakness “checking”, you actually encourage your opponent to put more chips in the pot to steal it.  Under the right conditions a check-raise bluff can earn you far more money with a strong hand than an opening-raise.  This is because if you had a tight table image your opening-raise may have forced everyone else to fold (as it shows strength) – hence you never would have been able to trick your opponent into putting chips in the pot.

Squeeze Play

Although not one of the major 5 bluffs, the “squeeze play” bluff is still an exciting and commonly adopted tactic in tournament poker.  Squeeze play allows you to pick up a lot of chips in the right tournament situations.  Squeeze play is when there is a raiser and caller in a pot, and you re-raise from any position with any given range of hands.  The standard outcome is for both players to fold, and you win a large pot by feigning a strong hand.

Conclusion on Bluffing

Ultimately, learning how and when to bluff is an acquired skill that comes with experience and knowledge of the game. My advice is not to bluff often when you begin. Wait until you can learn to reason, analyse and exploit the stype of opponents at your table. It should also be noted that bluffing occurs much more frequently in certain types of games.  In tournaments and heads up games for example, the agressive nature of the games means you’ll need to bluff more often to be successful. 

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