Lying acceptable strategy for winning poker games

Feb 5, 2013 3:00 AM

“Liar, liar, pants on fire. Hangin’ on a telephone wire!” – from the 1810 poem, “The Liar” by William Blake.

“It’s easy to tell when politicians are lying. Their lips move.” – from the 1985 British television series, “Max Headroom.”

(This joke has been widely repeated and rephrased.)

The Bible (Proverbs 6:16-19) clearly warns against “a lying tongue,” and yet (according to scientific research) most humans start lying at about age 4. We all know the story of Pinocchio whose nose grew longer whenever he told a lie.

There are situations, however, when lying to deceive another person is perfectly acceptable. Bluffing during a poker game is a great example.

If you played football as a youngster, you may have been taught to “feint” to one side and then move quickly to the opposite side – with the intent to deceive your opponent. The loving mother is knowingly lying when she tells her child: “The stork brought you” (in reference to childbirth) and speaks of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.

Scientists have researched lying for many years. A recent study at the Harvard Business School found creative people are more prone to tell lies. The more power a person has, the easier it is for him to tell a lie. There is less stress.

Art of bluffing

Recently, I was fortunate to be invited to sit in on a preview of the lecture on “The Art of Bluffing” by my co-columnist (and now poker buddy) George “The Engineer” Epstein, in preparation for presentation to his Seniors Poker Class at the Claude Pepper Senior Center.

Did you know that bluffing in poker is an art that requires great skill to be fully successful? With George’s permission, I will share some of the topics he lists in his lecture notes, and offer my comments on a few.

• Bluffing Philosophy: Bluff occasionally – but not too often. If you never bluff, your opponents will know you have a strong hand whenever you make a big bet or raise.

• What is Break-even? George says it’s approximately 30%. If your bluffs succeed more often, you are a winner!

• Stealing: It’s wise to occasionally steal the blinds preflop; better yet, steal the pot on the flop.

• Two Key Tactics: There may be others. These are key to being a winner!

• Use Your Image: It’s much easier to bluff when you start with a tight image.

• Evaluate Your Opponents: Don’t try to bluff out a Calling-Station.

• Helpful: Reading Your opponents’ hands. That’s obvious, but how can you best do it in the “heat of battle?”

• Caution: How well does your opponent know you? If you were just caught in a bluff (it happens!), don’t try it again shortly after on the same opponent or against one closely observing the playing of every hand even when not involved. Wait awhile.

• Look for Tells: George told of watching a group of “pros” playing in a big tournament shown on TV. The bluffer sat back in his chair and placed his hand over his mouth. All the “world” saw his tell. Avoid giving those out.

• Semi-Bluffing: Setting the Stage: Usually, if you would bluff on the river, a semi-bluff on the turn is the smart thing to do. George gave a good example: With four-to-the-nut-flush, a large bet or raise on the turn against one or two opponents can win the pot for you. If they fold, you take the pot by default.

If one opponent deigns to call, you can still make your hand by catching the flush on the river. If not, then you can do your full bluff using the right tactics and tactical reinforcements.

Yes, I agree bluffing well in poker is an “Art” that requires skill and special talents. George had several more topics related to The Art of Bluffing. I suggested he write another book to go along the one that describes the Hold’em Algorithm. He promised to give it consideration. What do you think?

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

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