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POKER SENSE

This last section on poker includes some final words on bluffing, which have been mentioned in various places already, and a little on etiquette.

Bluffing

Poker is known to be a game of bluff, and newcomers are apt to believe that you cannot win without bluffing.  If they watch big games on television they will see big bluffs working.  It looks easy.  When they start to play, they will probably bluff too often, or at least at the wrong times, and will soon begin to wonder why their opponents aren’t falling for the sort of ploy that seems to work on TV.


            It is true bluffing and psychology play a bigger role in poker than any other card game.  Psychology is the knack of ‘reading’ your opponents and being able to discern from their demeanor or style of play how strong their hands are.  This, of course, is easier with players you’ve known for a long time, and played with often, than it is with strangers.  With the former it is easier for you to detect if an opponent might be bluffing.  But this is only part of the game.  The best confidence trickster in the world cannot win consistently at poker merely by bluffing.  Bluffing is not a winner in itself, but used at the right times and in the right circumstances it can pay rich dividends.

            As stated earlier, there are two kinds of bluffing:

  • To fool your opponents that your hand is better than it is.
  • To fool your opponents that your hand is not so good.

In the first example, your purpose is to avoid a showdown.  You bet heavily, your opponent thinks he is beaten and folds.  Perhaps he had the better hand, but you pick up the pot.  You do not need to show  your hand, so he never knows if he was bluffed or not.

Mind games

However, if you work a successful bluff, perhaps at times you might want your opponent to know it.  You are now entering the realm of mind games.  Normally he would not know that you had been bluffing, but if you expose your hand, he will see he has been bluffed.  He will not like it.  You then refrain from bluffing for a while, in the hope that similar circumstances will arise when your hand is a good one. This time you hope your opponent, remembering how he was bluffed before, and not wanting to be bluffed again, will bet with you, and force a showdown.  This time you have the draw cards, and win a bigger pot than you would otherwise.

Remember certain things when thinking of bluffing

NUMBER OF PLAYERS

The more players there are left in the pot, the harder it is to bring off a successful bluff.  The reason is clear.  If three opponents are left, and you frighten off two, but one remains to take the pot, it is no good reflecting that your bluff was two-thirds successful.  You do not get two –thirds of the pot.

POSITION

It is really making the same point to say that position at the table is important.

  • If you are ‘under the gun’ , all the other players are still in the game.  Running a bluff from here is very difficult.
  • On the other hand if you are last to speak and only one player has bet, a maximum raise might well persuade him to fold, leaving you the pot with nothing in your hand.

As an example, suppose you are the last person to speak before the draw in Jackpots Draw Poker, holding a pair of 4s.  All but one of your opponents has folded.  The man who bet must have a pair of Jacks or better.  Suppose you raise and he calls.

  • He takes three cards (suggesting he held a pair).
  • You take one (pretending you held two pairs, or four to a flush or straight).
  • He bets and you raise the maximum.  If his best is still just a pair, however high (the odds are 5 to 2 against him having improved), will he be prepared to risk a sizeable number of chips on calling?  Or will he assume you’ve filled a flush, straight or even a full house, or at least still have two pairs, and save his money?

If bluffing to urge opponents to fold, you must be prepared to raise, forcing opponents to spend money to discover whether you are bluffing or not.  Calling will not frighten anybody away.

WHEN TO BLUFF

You have seen the opportunity to bluff your opponent, and have forced him to make a decision.  Of course, before you tried your bluff, you would have estimated that your opponent was likely to fold.  There are some players, not good ones, who are so frightened of losing to a bluff that they will call in almost any circumstances.  Many times they will lose money but that’s no consolation to you if you are bluffing and they win on this occasion.  So choose carefully when to bluff.  Newcomers to the game are particularly loath to be bluffed, so they will often call you out to your irritation, while an experienced player accepts that he will be bluffed occasionally.

Good games for bluffing

It is far easier to bluff in no-limit or pot-limit games than in games with a limit.  Suppose the pot contains 100 chips in a limit game, and your bet or raise is limited to, say, five chips.  Very few opponents are prepared to be bluffed out of a pot of that size if it costs only five chips to call.  To most the five chips would be worth the peach of mind that comes from knowing they were really beaten.  To save the five and spend the rest of the week wondering if they were bluffed or not is not an option.

*  Bluffing to lose

Some players advocate the value of bluffing in the expectation of losing, in order to persuade opponents you are a loose player and encourage them to bet against you next time, when your hand is a winner.  But this seems unnecessary.  You will find that enough bluffs fail when you are trying to win to make it unnecessary for you to ‘deliberately’ lose a few more.  The contrary advice, given by other players, is that you should only stay in the game if you believe your hand is the best one held at the table.  But that would preclude this form of bluffing altogether.

            The best advice is that all your bets should be aimed at winning the pot.  Do not bluff in hope, bluff with purpose.

So you must consider the size of the pot before bluffing.  The bigger the pot grows in limit poker the harder it becomes to bluff an opponent out of it.  So the best bluffs are those that get rid of opponents early, particularly in Stud Poker, before their hands can develop.
            In no-limit knockout games, such s Hold’Em or Omaha, with progressively larger blind bets, a player whose pile of chips gets low is often obliged to bluff.  If he waits for the good hands, he sees his pile diminishing as he is called upon to provide each of the two blinds every round.  Since he will get knocked out if he doesn’t bet, sooner or later he will choose a time to go ‘all-in’, i.e. bet all his chips on one hand.  Sometimes he cannot wait for a god hand to arrive, and stakes all on a poor one.  If he is called by an opponent who senses his predicament, he can only hope the board is kind to him, and turns cards that convert his poor hand into a winning one.  This is one of those situations that make the game so fascinating everything depends on whether one player is bluffing or not, and whether the other players can tell.

Bluffing to look weak

The second type of bluff where you lead your opponents to believe your hand is weaker than it is in order to get more money into the pot, is probably more useful, especially in limit poker, where you need to build up the pot you expect to win.  You therefore bet slowly, perhaps call where you might have raised, to encourage opponents to stay in the game longer.  An example of slow playing is given overleaf.
            If you are sure you have the best hand, the Ss to keep your opponents betting.

  • If you bet the maximum at every opportunity there is a danger that all your opponents will fold, leaving you with a lower pot than you would like.
  • If you bet too low and nobody raises, again you may not have made the best of your hand.

There is no rule you can follow in this situation.  Your judgment of the other players and how they are betting is your guide.

*  Last word

            A final word about bluffing.  One of the oldest adages of poker players is that it is easier to bluff good players than bad players.  If you hold a poor hand, and are behaving as if you have a powerful one, a good player will notice your behavior and possibly fold, whereas your bluff might go over the head of a poor player, who will call, to your disgust.  There is no point in trying to bluff poor players, which might lead to disaster, when you can beat them anyway