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Bluffing is a powerful strategy designed to help you win the pot with an inferior hand. Your opponent is unwilling to risk so many chips when you make a big bet and (if you are adept at the Esther Bluff) reach into his mind to convince him you have the best hand.

As a result, your bluff target folds his hand, leaving the pot for you. To be successful at bluffing, there are several important situation-related considerations before electing to go for it. That can make the difference between success and failure. Your mistakes can be costly.

When deciding whether to attempt a bluff, among the biggest mistakes is failing to carefully evaluate your bluff-targets and to observe their stack sizes: how many chips does each have in front of him? Sometimes, an overly zealous bluffer bluff-bets against an opponent who is almost all-in.

Once his last chip is in the pot, the bluff-target gets free cards from then on – all the way to the river. Pay attention to all relevant details.

An especially profound mistake is trying to bluff out a Calling-Station. Whatever drives him, 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.

If an opponent has suffered several bad beats, is he on tilt? If so, the average on-tilt player is inclined to call your bluff-bets – and “get it over with.” But, if he is a tight player, he very well may decide to preserve 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 you might consider. 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.

After one bluff-target folds, if there is another opponent still in the pot who has called your bluff-bets on the flop and the turn, assume he holds a decent hand. Did you evaluate him before deciding to bluff? Is he tight? Is he deceptive? If so, could he be sandbagging after flopping a monster hand?

Look for tells. Based on the board texture and how he has played this hand, do you think he has a drawing hand and would fold to a bluff-bet on the river if he doesn’t connect? Is he aware you often bluff? If he is a “timid” player, expect him to fold – unless he is convinced he holds the best hand. Believe him.

Is there a strong likelihood your opponent has a strong drawing hand – one that would smash your hand to smithereens; or do you believe he has 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?

Highlights: There is much to consider before deciding to try to bluff out your opponents. Focus your attention on the game. Carefully evaluate your opponents.

Ask yourself relevant questions before making your decision: How many opponents will I need to bluff out? What type of player is each? A Calling-Station – who never folds once he enters the pot, cannot be bluffed out. Forget it. Is one of my bluff targets practically all-in?

With just a few chips in front of him, it makes no sense to try to bluff him out. Once those chips are in the pot, he gets free cards from then on. He does not have any more chips that would be at risk. You cannot bluff him out!

“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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