Painting a picture of bluffing

Painting a picture of bluffing

April 18, 2017 3:00 AM


Bluffing is an integral part of poker. Until I read (and re-read) Epstein’s book on “The Art of Bluffing” (see ad), I had no idea of the many aspects of bluffing and other forms of deception. I fully agree with him when he says, “If you never bluff, you are bound to be a loser.”

Why is this so? If you never bluff, your opponents will soon realize you only lead out in the betting, or raise, when you have a strong hand. That’s a super tell. Once on to this trait, they are more likely to muck hands they would have otherwise played to the river – and you win only small pots.

Bluffing is the most common form of deception: inducing your opponent to fold his hand that would otherwise beat yours. Other forms of deception include check-raising, slow-playing, and trapping your opponents.

Bluffing is a form of aggressive play. In addition to winning the pot with an inferior hand, it can serve other purposes: (1) raising to gain position over those who had bet/called before you; (2) getting a free card on the next round of betting when the bets are much higher; and (3) reducing the chance an opponent will try to bluff you out.

You don’t have to win all of your bluffs. Epstein estimates a break-even of 30% to 40%. If your bluffs succeed more often, you are likely a net winner on your bluffs. A player skilled in the art of bluffing could win 70% to 80% of his bluffs – especially if he uses the Esther Bluff tactic. That entails getting into the brain of your opponent, convincing him you have him beat. 

It’s easier to bluff out fewer opponents. Even so, Epstein claims to have successfully bluffed out as many as six opponents in a low-limit hold’em game – using the Esther Bluff tactic.

When you scoop in a big pot on a bluff, don’t show your hand to aggravate the loser, or to impress the other players. Why give them any information they might later use to your disadvantage. You may want to bluff soon again. 

Making your bluff bet or raise when you hold lots of good outs – that’s a semi-bluff. If your opponents fold, you win; and if you get called, you can still win the pot if you connect on the next round(s) of betting – or, for that matter, you might decide to bluff again.

Never try to bluff out a calling-station. Once he has invested in the pot, he is inclined to stay all the way to the end. Likewise, a loose player who has been winning (he has many tall stacks of chips in front of him), tends to call bluff bets. On the other hand, a tight player who is low in chips, is more likely to muck his hand.

Just as you are observing your opponents to determine their playing traits, many of them are doing the same for you. Ideally, you want to leave them with a tight image of your play. Then, when you attempt to bluff, they are more likely to believe you have a strong hand. 

As for tells, there are some you need to dodge when bluffing. Examples: covering your mouth with your hand; leaning back in your chair; touching or rubbing your neck; taking a deep breath and holding it; licking your lips. Be aware, and avoid these tells. 

Epstein describes the Richard B. reverse tell. Simply lean forward in your seat as you put your chips into the pot – while using the Esther Bluff tactic. It’s OK if you appear a bit nervous (actually, excited) while bluffing – but not too nervous. (Who wouldn’t be excited to hold the nuts!) 

In my next column, we will discuss another form of deceptive play: the Check-Raise.