Mastering art of bluffing in poker through skill

Dec 31, 2012 3:09 AM

In the Oct. 9, 2012 issue of GamingToday, I wrote a column entitled “Bluffing Succeeds When Not Abused.” Watching no-limit games on TV, it seemed most of these brave-betting/raising players have yet to fully master the Art of Bluffing.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “art is the systematic use of knowledge or skill in doing things” – like bluffing in poker…It takes skill to be successful in bluffing, especially in low-limit games. Many poker experts claim “you cannot bluff in low-limit games.”

Their argument is based on the relatively low cost to call a bet, making it difficult to pull off a bluff. That may be their experience; but, for those who have become expert in the art, bluffing can be a significant source of winning chips. A skilled low-limit player often goes home a winner because of his bluffs.

Timid players are easy to bluff out; whereas calling-stations are practically impossible to persuade to muck their hands. The rest of the players are somewhere in between.

Two Key Tactics

The key to success is skill in applying two key bluffing tactics. Everyone is aware of the first tactic: Betting or raising high enough to render your opponent reluctant to call. “It’s just too expensive,” he decides.

Low-limit bluffers don’t have the “luxury” of making a really big bet. They can’t go “all-in” with huge stacks of chips. The size of the bet or raise is severely restricted. That’s where the second tactic becomes critical. Without it, low-limit bluffs would usually fail – and would indeed be costly.

In my previous column on bluffing, we touched on this second tactic: the Esther Bluff, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell. (It’s powerful!) Briefly, make your bet (or raise) with confidence – just as you would if you held the nuts. You know you have the best hand!

At the same time, using the Richard B. Reverse Tell, lean forward in your seat. Believe it or not, your brain waves will reach your opponent’s brain (that’s fact, not science-fiction) and embed the message: “I better fold and save some chips.” It’s OK to appear a bit nervous. Who wouldn’t be excited to hold the nuts!

Tells to Avoid

When bluffing, don’t make a noticeable difference in your otherwise normal behavior, such as speaking more or less often; don’t cover your mouth with your hand; don’t lean back in your chair; don’t touch, stroke or rub your neck; don’t take a deep breath and hold it.

Can you suggest other Reverse Tells, or other tells-to-avoid when you are bluffing? There’s a prize for the best one a reader submits. Contact [email protected]

Your Image Can Help

A tight image is also part of the art of successful bluffing. Your opponents have noted you are highly selective in your starting hands, folding most hole cards before the flop. That’s to your advantage when you go for a bluff.

Also essential is being able to detect when an opponent is trying to bluff you out. If he is a maniac, by all means call him if there is any chance your hand may be best. Respect tight players; they rarely bluff. Call only if it’s a huge pot.

What about an opponent you have not yet evaluated? If he bets/raises on the river, study the board and consider the range of hands he might hold. Estimate your pot odds to call him. If you have one chance in, say, six of prevailing, and the pot odds are substantially more than 5-to-1, it’s worth a call.

Of course, always look for tells. As indicated above (see Tells to Avoid when you are doing the bluffing), there are tells for which you might look to determine if your opponent is attempting a bluff against you.

Finally, become sensitive to situations that offer the most potential for bluffing. That, too, is part of the Art of Bluffing.

Contact Irene at [email protected].

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