Bluffing is more art than science but there are still concepts you can use to decide whether or not to bluff. Here are a several things to consider when you decide to take down the pot with an otherwise losing hand!
Don’t Bluff Multiple Players
The fewer players in the pot, the more likely your bluff will succeed. One-on-one or “heads up” is the best bluffing situation. It’s actually rare to bluff multiple players out of a pot so I usually don’t try. For each player in the pot after the first two, there is a big percentage jump that one of your opponents has a strong hand they won’t fold. If you look at the successful bluffs on YouTube, you’ll find that most of them occur in heads up situations.
Bluff Good Players Not Bad Ones
It’s much easier to bluff skilled players than bad players. Good players realize that folding is an important part to being a profitable player. They realize that most hands are not good enough to win the pot so they fold much more often than bad players.
Therefore, if you’re up against a good player, consider bluffing. But if you’re in the pot with a bad player, play straightforward poker. Bet your strong hands and fold your weak hands.
Think About Your Table Image
If you’ve been showing strong hands and winning a lot of pots at the showdown, players will remember that and tend to fear you. This gives you great bluffing equity so look to bluff more often. On the other hand, if you’ve been showing poor hands and losing a lot at the showdown, players will tend to call you down so lower your bluffing attempts.
Table image includes how many hands you’re playing preflop. If you’re playing tight, or only playing a few hands preflop, players will tend to fear you. When you enter the pot, they expect you to have a strong hand since you’ve been picky.
But if you’re playing loose, or play a lot of hands, players will tend to call you down because more than likely, you have a weak hand.
Your table image is also built by the aggressiveness of your play. If you are raising and betting a lot, players will think that you are bluffing so they will start calling you down. On the other hand, if you are mostly folding, checking, and calling, players will respect your raises and bets.
Take Advantage of Position
Having position, or being last to act, is a big advantage if you want to bluff. Position allows you to to see your opponent’s play before you make your play.
For example, a common bluffing situation is when your opponent checks to you. A check usually signifies a weak hand so you can often get them to fold by bluffing.
Also, many players will bet a small amount of money if they are not confident with their hand. Once you’ve identified these players, you can successfully bluff them with a big bet when they bet small.
Bluff When Scare Cards Come Up
Scare cards can present opportunities for bluffing. For example, if the flop has two cards of the same suit and then the turn brings a third card of that suit, you can bluff to represent a flush.
The river can also bring scare cards. For instance, the flop and turn is 10 5 J K. If the river is an Ace, consider bluffing to represent that you have a queen for the straight.
Bluff at “Dry” Flops
Players often refer to flops as being “dry” or “wet”. Dry flops are uncoordinated flops that don’t have many opportunities for strong hands or draws while wet flops are coordinated flops with many opportunities.
A flop of K 7 2 of three different suits is very dry. There are no flush and straight draws and only one card above 9. If you’re in a heads up situation, your opponent will probably not have the King for top pair. Therefore, I would bluff the flop to represent a King.
Another common example of a dry flop is a flop with a pair. Flops like 8 3 3, K 2 2, and J J 4 are good bluffing opportunities as long as each of the cards is a different suit.
On the other hand, a flop of K Q J of the same suit is very wet. There are many opportunities for flush and straight draws. In fact, your opponent may already have a straight or a flush. Also, all three cards are above 9, so there is a good chance your opponent may have two pair.
Use the Semi-Bluff
The semi-bluff is a bluff with a hand that has a good chance of improving to the best hand in later streets. For example, you have a flush draw on the flop. Your opponent bets and you raise. You want them to fold but if they don’t, you still have a good chance of making the best hand on the turn or river.
The semi-bluff is a very powerful strategy. It’s much better than the typical bluff because you have two ways to win the pot instead of just one.
How Much Should You Bet?
Keep track of the money in the pot. The pot amount is important because it determines how strong your bet is. If the pot is $50 and you bet $1, your bet is very weak. On the other hand, if you bet $500, your bet is very strong.
You don’t want to bet too small because that allows your opponents to get a cheap price on their draws. But you don’t want to bet too big, because you’ll lose a lot of money if your bluff fails.
In heads up situations, the standard bet by the pros ranges from half the pot to the whole pot. So if the pot is $100, pros will bet anywhere from $50 to $100. A bet within this range is big enough that your opponent won’t get favorable odds on draws and it’s small enough that you won’t risk too much money to win the pot.
Finally, make your bluffing bets the same amount as your non-bluffing bets. For example, if you usually bet half the pot on the flop, bet that same amount when you bluff. If the betting amounts of your bluffs and non-bluffs are different, observant players will realize this tendency and figure out whether or not you’re bluffing.
Putting It All Together: Analyze the Situation
Bluffing is all about analyzing the situation. Don’t bluff for the sake of bluffing. Instead, be patient and wait until an opportunity presents itself. The principles I’ve outlined above can help you detect a good bluffing situation. When it comes up, have some courage, reach for your chips, and stick it in the middle with confidence. Your opponents will be folding soon enough. Good luck at the tables!