To bluff or not to bluff, that is the question. The thrill of pulling off a genius bluff is easily one of the most amusing aspects of poker. From mastering your poker face to fooling your fellow players, this aspect of the game allows players to overcome an ill-dealt hand and if executed properly, steal the pot from their opponents. Before we get into the details of how to bluff we’re going to look at when is best to bluff and when to avoid it.
When to Bluff
If your poker skills lean a little more to the inexperienced side, it can be tempting to bluff continuously throughout the game. As tempting as this is, it’s usually a mistake. Instead, try bluffing when the stakes are relatively low. Not only can this early game bluffing force your opponent to fold but should they call your bluff, you’re potential losses are a lot less. What’s more, this type of bluffing will improve your reputation at the table as these smaller bets will allow you to appear more professional. This is because more often than nought, inexperienced poker players are guilty of making grand bets later in the game once they spot a good hand of cards and an opportunity for profit. Whatever you do, avoid this kind of strategy!
More specifically, we would advise that you bluff during the pre-flop. Let’s say you’re in a scenario where you’re in the last position and the other players to your left appear to hold strong hands. It may be time for a small bluff. This is done at this time for several reasons. Not only would a raise here place pressure on your rivals - forcing some weaker players to fold - but it gives you the chance to test the reactions of your remaining opponents. You can then adapt your playing style and strategy based on these reactions.
When Not to Bluff
Pre-flop aside, how do you know if bluffing is the right move for you? Firstly, let’s highlight that bluffing is just one aspect of the game. Secondly, let's highlight that the other elements are logic, psychology and mathematics. What this means for you is that other players have probably noticed your playing style and if that suddenly changes because you’re bluffing, they might pick up on it. Furthermore, if you’re bluffing when the cards on the table don’t add up to a great hand, you may give yourself away and be sinking money into the pot unnecessarily. We talk more about this below in Common Bluffing Mistakes.
Taking note of the above, we’d advise that you avoid bluffing at every hand. We’d even go as far to say that you should only use your bluffs scarcely. Furthermore, just because you haven’t bluffed in a while, doesn’t mean it’s time to throw one into the mix. Only bluff when you feel you can sell the story effectively to the other players at the table.
Most Popular Bluffs
Yep, you read that right, all poker bluffs were not created equal! There are in fact several different types of bluffs - the most popular of which we’ve kindly outlined below.
The quick bluff - The majority of poker bluffs are known as quick bluffs or small balls. These bluffs tend to be made following a small bet but typically lead to a quick win. Given the briefness of the game, the pot gained from these wins usually isn’t anything to write home about. However, the main goal with a quick bluff is to gain from the high frequency of your success rate. What's more, because the pot hasn’t gotten too large, you won’t lose big sums should you be called on your bluff by another player.
The continuation bet bluff — A continuation bet is where you have raised before the flop and bet again on the flop. You’ve “continued” betting, hence it's called a continuation bet. The key aim of this type of bet is to prevent your opponent from connecting with the board.
Semi-bluff — So you’ve drawn a hand that isn’t strong but it has the potential to be later in the game. In this case, it might be time to invest in the pot and go with a semi-bluff in the hope of making a straight or a flush.
Opportunistic bluff — There may be times during the game where other players are simply checking and not investing in the pot. If this happens, it strongly indicates that their hands are weak. If you notice that other players aren’t interested in the pot, this is your chance to make the opportunistic bluff.
Stone-cold bluff — This means you’re bluffing when you’re holding a hand of zero value. You’ll find that not a lot of players resort to this kind of bluff because it’s not highly profitable. With this kind of bluff, you’ve accepted that you have no chance of improving your hand and you rely too heavily on your opponents also having nothing and folding. It’s recommended that both new and longtime players avoid it if possible.
Concealing a Bluff
The first tip when concealing a bluff is to wait until some players are weeded out of the game. The logic follows that, if you have fewer people to fool, your bluff will be easier to sell. With less people scrutinising your every move and facial tick, there’ll be less chance of someone seeing through your facade and calling your bluff.
The second tip when concealing a bluff is to make sure you’re telling a good story. As we said before, a bluff is simply a story you’re telling. You’re using this story to lead opponents to believe you hold a set of cards that you, in fact, don’t. If you tell your story well enough, then they’ll eventually fold. Yet, this strategy goes beyond high raises and throwing half your chips into the pot. That isn’t going to convince anyone! Instead, you have to look at the cards on the table and see if there’s at least a potential there to connect if you were dealt a different hand. Then ask yourself, what is the story I’m trying to sell? That you have pocket aces, a straight or a flush? Then, it’s advised that you act as though you have that hand. Don’t bet or raise any more or less than you would with those set of cards. Certainly don’t try and scare off your rivals by overbetting because it’ll just reveal to them that you don’t hold the hand you’re trying to represent. Your opponents will spot that your bets make no sense and won’t take long to call your bluff.
Unfortunately, our last tip may be the hardest to execute. We’ve all heard of a tell in poker - that little twitch or action that lets your opponents know if you’re winning, losing or simply just full of it. Our last piece of advice here is to examine your own behaviour - how you act, sit, talk, move when you’re winning and losing. Doing this and identifying any possible tells will be one of the greatest assets to concealing a good bluff. Remember, your bluff is only as good as your poker face!