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Bluffing is something that every poker player has in their arsenal. Some players bluff more than others, some players bluff too much, and others pick the right spots to put in a great bluff. There is one thing for sure, a properly executed bluff in poker feels great. The intensity during the hand, the rush you experience during the bluff feels great. Many factors must be considered when trying to make a successful bluff, and today I will go over everything that goes through my mind before attempting a bluff.
What is a bluff?
Before I jump into everything I consider when bluffing, I wanted to define what a bluff is. In poker, a bluff can be defined as a time when a player bets or raises a pot with the worst hand to induce a fold by his opponent or opponents on any given hand. Typically, the player bluffing understands that they cannot win a pot without bluffing, so in order to win the chips in the middle, they must represent a strong hand.
Understanding Your Opponents
One of the most important things that you must be fully aware of before making a bluff is having a good understanding of the players at your table. Knowing your opponents is key when you are planning to bluff. Ideally when attempting a bluff, you want to do it against just one opponent, but there are times where a bluff would work with multiple players in a hand, especially when you are fully aware that the player with the best hand is in between two of the players in the hand and will have a very tough time calling without knowing what the other player behind him will do. Let me elaborate on this so you get better perspective.
Example – Player A (extremely aggressive) opens 2.5X under the gun, Player B (professional player) three-bets him in middle position, it folds to me and I four-bet with 10 9 of spades. Sounds like an awful line to take on my end, but here is why I did it. I was fully aware that Player A was super loose and playing a lot of hands, I knew that Player B picked that up after being on the table, Player B and I have played a lot of poker together and he knows I am not one to four-bet light. I am not putting Player A in an awful spot to stick in the hand with a below average hand or most of his opening range. Player B is capable of folding big hands to a 4-bet against a player with my image (tight). He could also play back fully understanding that I picked up on what was going on and was making a play, or if he truly had the top of his range. Luckily for me they both ended up folding. Normally I don’t pick a loose player to bluff against, but this is a unique situation where you can consider doing so and this is also an example of bluffing in a pot with multiple players.
There are players that do not like folding many hands and have no trouble calling with second pair or even bottom pair, bluffing a calling station is not something you want to do, especially when it is just you and the calling station in the hand. There are other players who not only fold solid hands but are also capable of folding big hands. It is all situational with these types of players and a lot of things must be considered if you are trying to bluff against them. Then there are players that are extremely tight and fold a lot of their range when facing a tough bet on a tough board. This is the player I am more inclined to bluff against because they can fold the best hand in tough spots more often than most other players. Picking your opponent to bluff against is extremely important.
Your Table Image
How players perceive you at your table will ultimately determine how they play back at you. If you have been very active and have raised a lot of pots without showdown whether you have had the best hand or not, you will eventually get called and that is something you have to understand. You see, at this point, players at your table are not sure whether you actually have a hand or if you are bluffing, so someone might ultimately look you up to see if you have what you are representing or if you are full of shit. When attempting a bluff, you want your table image to be that of a tight player that has shown down strong hands and has not been overly active. This will give your opponents a perception of you that describes a player who is playing good hands and betting when he has it, making it tough for them to call you with anything but the nuts or close to the nuts (very strong hands).
Have you recently been caught in a bluff? Have you recently loosened up and played more hands? Have you been playing tight? Has your opponent been running well? Has your opponent been bluffed a lot? Has your opponent lost a lot of hands with no showdown? Is your opponent on tilt? Aside from table image, you must look at the recent hands that have led up to this bluff. Not only from your end, but also from the player you are considering bluffing against. If you have recently played a lot of pots, you might not want to attempt a big bluff. If your opponent is steaming or on tilt, a bluff might not work against him. I have seen this happen before, a player is steaming, and someone tries to bully him out of a pot with a weak hand, and the player that is tilting calls with garbage and wins. You never want to do this, when a player is on tilt, you actually want a hand against this player so that you can easily send him to the showers.
Position in poker is important always, but when you are going for a bluff, it is ideal to have position on your opponent. This gives you the upper hand of letting your opponent make the first decision during the betting process so that you can put him/her on a hand. Your opponent’s betting patterns and how they react to your bet, will give you a lot of information about their potential range. Having position in a bluff is normally something I always try to do. There have been very little times that I have bluffed out of position.
What Story Are You Telling?
This is another essential piece of the puzzle when attempting a bluff. How has the current hand played out? Are you the initial raiser? Did you three-bet? Did you call a raise? If so, what was the action the rest of the hand? These are all things you must be thinking about because you are essentially telling your opponent a story here while playing your hand and it has to be a believable one. If you missed your flush and want to steal the pot on the river without representing a missed flush, can you represent another hand? If you three-bet a pot and you miss on the flop, decide to check, and then fire the turn with a card that does not help your three-betting range, can you truly represent a strong hand? What hands are checking the flop and betting the turn after a three-bet pre flop on a nine-high board?
When bluffing, you must make sure that your betting patterns make sense and are representing the better hand, otherwise it might not work. Every step of the hand during a bluff describes a new piece of the story and when you reach the river, it all has to make sense to your opponent. If at any point in the hand your story does not make sense or seems fishy, a good player will pick up on it.
Board texture is important, especially when you have a good read on your opponents’ range and his betting patterns. You yourself do not have to have a hand but might be fully aware that a specific board missed your opponents’ range and now you can take him off his hand. For example, if your opponent is tight, has not opened a ton of hands, has checked folded a lot when he misses, and has not shown much resistance to stick around in a pot unless he actually has a hand, this is information useful to you to bluff your opponent. If he opens in early position and you call in late position, and the board comes 3 7 8 rainbow. Assuming he has not checked called other players in situations like this with strong hands, if he checks here, chances are he has two big cards in his hand and completely missed this board. Against a tight player, a bet will get him off two face cards here a high percentage of the time. You can have KQ and he can have AK, but you are able to take down the pot with a bet. Even if he sticks around one more street, you can barrel one more time here if you know his range and are putting him on two face cards based on how it was played out. However, if he calls and an ace peels on the turn, you should be able to put your opponent on the ace if your read is spot on.
Let’s look at it from another angle. If a board comes out high cards and your opponent raised preflop, but slows down on a A K J board, he might have a lower pair or is afraid of the ace. If he becomes hesitant with his betting and you put him on a non-ace hand, mid-pair, or anything that is not strong enough to call her, you can represent the ace or an even better hand even if you do not have it. The important thing here is what your opponent thinks of you and what type of player you are up against.
Bet sizing is crucial when bluffing. It sort of goes hand in hand with the story you are telling in the sense that your bet generally represents the strength of your hand. A perfect bet will put your opponent in a thinking tank that could lead to an awful decision. The goal is to risk the least amount possible, but enough to where your opponent is hesitant to call. You cannot give your opponent pot odds to make an easy call with a mediocre hand, but you do not want to bet so much that it makes it obvious you are trying to bluff your opponent out of the hand. Sizing is all relevant to the size of the pot, so an exact amount is not something I can give you. That said, anywhere between 50%-70% of the pot is usually good enough to take down the pot. I know that is a wide range, but table dynamics will ultimately determine the sizing for me. In fact, sometimes less will get the job done, but that is normally the range I go with. The reason being is because with a made hand, I want to get value out of it and that is also the bet sizing I go with when I put my opponent on a mediocre hand. If my opponent is paying attention, he would have picked up on that and would be putting me on a superior hand.
How Often Should You Bluff?
This answer will vary from player to player. I am more on the tighter side and tend not to bluff as much. That said, this will depend on the game I am playing, the players I am up against, the cards I am getting, stack sizes, and how the table has been during my session. The one piece of advice I would give is to not try to bluff too much because players will pick up on it and eventually start calling you out on your bluffs.
As I always say, poker is situational, and one hand can be played so many ways. Bluffing is fun and exciting for sure, but a lot of thought must go into a bluff. You should not be bluffing just for the sake of bluffing, and even though it might work from time to time, if you do not consider all the variables, over the course of a longer period of time, your bluffs will not be as successful. Even though these are some of the things I am considering when I attempt a bluff, table dynamics, the game I am playing, and the situation I am in always play a huge role into my decision making. I will always stress this because I want you guys to get a real strong understanding of this because it is so important. This game is extremely situational based. I hope you enjoyed this article and if I see you in one of our subscriber tournaments, I hope you don’t catch me in a bluff now that you know how I think. Cheers!
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