Become A Better Poker Bluffer
By Bob Garcia
There’s nothing more exciting at the poker table than running a big bluff and getting away with it. The heart begins to pump, the voice inside the head begins to plead: please fold, please fold, please fold.
And when they do finally throw their cards into the muck, a rush of adrenaline surges through the veins and, for just a moment, just long enough to begin stacking those chips, everything is right with the world.
But that pure type of rush doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come on the seventh bluff when you’ve gotten called down the past six. It requires discipline. It requires patience. It requires insight.
But firstly, it requires the recognition that ultimately, there are only two types of bluffs:
1. Bluffs with no, or very low, equity, often known as “pure bluffs”
2. Bluffs with decent (or better) equity.
To picture a low/no equity bluff, imagine check-raising the river with J-high on a board like 77223. Technically speaking, you do still have some equity because your opponent could hero-call you with T-high (we’ve all seen crazier things at the table!), but obviously that’s not much of a consideration when making the bluff. In contrast, when making a “semi-bluff,” such as raising QJ on a T95 board, the odds of having the best of it by the end of the hand, is a significant consideration when electing how to play the hand. Here are some tips for how to optimally bluff each of these two types of hands.
No/Low Equity Hands
Know Your Opponent
Obviously, this is essential regardless of what type of bluff you’re attempting to execute, but it is absolutely critical when you’re missing the protection of meaningful draws. If you’re going to be jumping from a trapeze without a net, you better know what you’re doing! So before you try a highlight-worthy bluff, it’s important that you build some insight into why this particular opponent is the one to you should run it on.
Tell A Good Story
Does it even make sense that you could have rivered an ace like you’re about to try to convince your opponent you did? If you’re sitting on a short stack and started the hand by checking your option in the big blind, the answer is probably not. If you limped in early position and only flat-called the button’s raise, how likely is it that you turned the nuts with 67? Maybe a little if you have terrible hand-selection, but not very much. So before you launch into stack-destroying spew, take a moment to think about the story your actions have told your opponent, and only take action when the story is right.
Decent (or better) Equity Hands
Consider The Number Of Opponents
In addition to the two tips above, focusing on making the majority of your bluffs against a single opponent will drastically improve your odds of success early on in your poker career. That’s not to say there isn’t value to be found in bluffing multiple opponents in the right situations, only that inexperienced and overly-aggressive players vastly underestimate how much tougher great “story-telling” becomes when the hand equity is spread amongst multiple players.
Never Bluff To “Advertise”
One of the most illogical reasons live poker players bluff is for what they call “advertising.” The thinking is that if your opponent calls and sees you had nothing but a bluff, he or she is more likely to pay you off down the road. One reason this makes no sense (and there are many) is that the imagined future equity not only has to actually come to fruition (we can never be certain what our opponents are thinking when they see us bluff or whether a good opportunity to test it out will even come into play), but it then has to be large enough to outdo the damage caused by making a poor bluff in the first place. That’s a lot of variables to be committing your hard-earned dollars (or chips) to! Instead, use your bluffs logically: by getting folds in the right spots when you have little to no equity, and putting pressure on your opponents to fold their share of equity when you have a good amount of your own.
By doing these four things — knowing your opponent, telling a good story, primarily bluffing a single opponent (at least at first), and bluffing for the right reasons — you will instantly increase your long-term bottom line and experience a much higher percentage of those wonderful adrenaline rushes. Enjoy!