Bluffing your way to poker victory

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Parts I and II offered several strategies to accomplish our primary poker goal: Win as much money as possible! Win BETTER.

Today, we will discuss bluffing – a powerful strategy intended to help you win pots with inferior hands.

Your opponent is unwilling to risk his chips when you make a big bet and/or (having become adept at the Esther Bluff) you deftly “reach” into his mind to convince him you have the best hand. As a result, your bluff target folds his hand, leaving the pot to you. I estimate you are ahead in bluffing if more than 30 percent are successful; so it can be a great source for winning substantially more money. Win BETTER!

Having decided to bluff: Don’t rely on sheer luck. From the start of your hold’em poker session, make the effort to carefully evaluate your likely future bluff-targets and to observe their chip-stack sizes: how many chips does each have in front of him. Don’t try to bluff out an opponent who is almost all-in – unless he is so tight he would fold to preserve his meager remaining chips.

After an opponent’s last chip is in the pot, he gets free cards from then on – all the way to the river.

Likewise, don’t try to bluff out a Calling-Station. Once he has decided to play the hand, he is in it to the end. You must have a real hand to beat him out.

An opponent has suffered several bad beats; is he on tilt? The average on-tilt player is inclined to call your bluff-bets – and “get it over with.” But, if he happens to be a tight player, he very well may decide to save his remaining chips for a better opportunity, folding to your bluff-bet.

Usually it’s a mistake to try to bluff out three or more opponents. Certainly, it is much easier to bluff out a single opponent. But there are special circumstances.

For example, if your table is unusually “tight,” then opponents are more likely to fold. If the opponent to your left is timid and promptly mucks his hand, the others are more likely to follow along – the “follow the leader” syndrome.

If all but one bluff-target folds, who has called bets on the flop and the turn, assume he either holds a decent hand or is drawing to a big hand. Having evaluated him, ask yourself: Is he tight? Or, does he chase with few outs? Is he deceptive; could he be sandbagging after flopping a monster hand?

Look for tells. If your opponent does not raise on the turn, assume he has a drawing hand, or a weak one. Then, he is more likely to fold to a bluff-bet on the river if he doesn’t connect. If he is a “timid” player, expect him to fold on the river– unless he is convinced he holds the best hand. Believe him.

Is it likely your opponent has a strong drawing hand – one that would smash your hand to smithereens if he connected; or has he been chasing with a small pair or an inside straight draw?

Try a semi-bluff. The river seems to be a blank. Now consider: Would your river bluff-bet be big enough to force him to muck his hand? How adept are you at using the Esther Bluff tactic? On the other hand, if you have a monster hand, betting for value is a viable option to help you win BETTER.

Re-bluffing frequency

Don’t bluff too often; your opponents are then more likely to be suspicious and call you down. One or two times per hour is reasonable.

Summary

Ask yourself relevant questions before making your bluffing decision:

•How many opponents will I need to bluff out?

• What type of player is each?

• Is one of my bluff-targets practically all-in?

• Is it likely your target was drawing, and missed on the river, so he would be inclined to fold to your bluff-bet, executed in conjunction with the Esther Bluff tactic.

Successful bluffing can help you to win BETTER!

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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