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Bluffing is an oft-used strategy in playing poker. You bet as if you have a monster hand. Your opponent(s) fold, leaving the pot to you.

The best bluffs are semi-bluffs, where you bet or raise on the turn with many outs to which to draw. You can win the pot two ways:

1. Opponent(s) fold, you win by default.

2. Alternatively, in a semi-bluff you have lots of solid outs. Even if you are called by an opponent, you still have a reasonable chance of making the best hand to win the pot at the showdown.

In limit hold’em, as a rule of thumb, if you win 30 percent of bluffs, you are about breaking even. Win more often, then you have an edge over your opponents.

You earned that edge by using three essential elements for successful bluffing, especially a viable bluffing tactic – such as the Esther Bluff — without holding the best hand.

Of course, you want to give yourself the best chance that your bluff will work. Certainly, it is easier to bluff out a single opponent. The more opponents you try to bluff out, the less likely you will succeed.

Other than that quite-obvious truism, there are three essential elements to winning the pot by bluffing. You gain a big edge over your opponents to the extent that you can make use of these three essentials:

1. Image: How your opponents view you as a player. If they see you as a tight player, your bluff has a much better chance to succeed. If playing free and loose, they are more likely to give credence to the possibility you are betting/raising as a bluff.

And, of course, if they have seen you get caught in previous bluff attempts, the more likely it is that you will be called. That can be costly! Time to change gears.

2. Knowing opponent(s): It’s the way to discern whether he/she can likely can be bluffed out. Some players are harder to bluff than others – especially in a limit game. In a no-limit game, you can use the size of your bet as a “weapon” to discourage a caller.

If your opponent has a drawing hand, a large bet can make the pot odds so unattractive that he folds without hesitation. But, in a limit game where the size of the bet is relatively modest, it’s harder to use that tactic.   

Convince opponent(s) that you hold a far superior hand. That’s a challenge. Always remember that quite often you will encounter a “Calling Station” playing against you. That person is determined to see the showdown.

Don’t try to bluff out such a player. It can only cost you valuable chips. Better to bet for value against a Calling Station and earn extra chips when the person pays to see your monster.

3. Use best tactics: What is the best way – the best procedure – to pull off your bluff? Most players don’t really have a bluffing tactic. They know only to bet away, hoping to scare off their opponent(s) just by making the bet (or raise).

I have found the Esther Bluff, combined with the Richard B’s reverse tell (Richard is one of my top poker students; drop me a line if you want to know how either works) as the most effective bluffing tactics. They work for me over 60 percent – about double the break-even for bluffing.

The main point is that successful bluffing requires tactics – a ploy – a plan of action – to convince your opponent that folding is in his best interest at that time.

Master these bluffing essentials, especially the tactics, and you have a substantial edge over your opponents.

Next week: “Value Betting.”

For comments and questions, “The Engineer” can be reached online at: [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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