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I have written about it many times. The “Esther Bluff” was created many years ago by my granddaughter while she was still a teenager. I thought it would be a good idea to teach her how to play Texas hold’em. As it turned out, poker was not her cup of tea. She has other interests in life.

But while I was teaching her the game, a funny thing happened. After a short while, as we played out hands, she was beating me hand after hand. Then, suddenly it occurred to me. I had not yet taught her the bluffing strategy, but she learned it on her own.

Indeed, on some hands, as she raised my bet with so much confidence that I was convinced she had caught a big hand. It was the expression on her face, and her body and head motions as she sat up and leaned forward to make a big raise. I was convinced without a doubt: I just knew my hand was second-best.

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But she made one big mistake: She did that so often that I became suspicious. Several hands later, I decided to call her raise when she again did it with the same motions and actions. Sure enough, I had guessed correctly: She was trying to bluff me out. Her mistake was doing it so often that she aroused my suspicion. Maybe I was just plain lucky.

Without realizing it, my granddaughter had created and taught me the “Esther Bluff” — a tactic that is essential to successful bluffing. No wonder my bluffs now are successful over 80 percent of the time, though I figure that 40 percent is the break-even for bluffing in low/middle limit games.

I am convinced that the Esther Bluff is essential to success in bluffing — and, hence, in your struggle to go home a winner as often as possible. And, I would add, the Esther Bluff tactic can help you even when you don’t expect to force out all your opponents.

For example, what if you start with a big pocket-pair, say two Aces in the hole. You are in a middle position; in addition to the two blinds, one opponent has already called the Big Blind to stay to see the flop.

Probability theory tells us that your A-A will be an underdog if three or more of the “enemy” remains in the hand while you don’t catch a set on the flop (The odds are about 8-to-1 against you). So, here’s a good opportunity to force some of them to muck their cards — using the Esther Bluff.

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We call that “thinning the field.” Of course, that’s also useful when you hold any made hand before the flop. Pre-flop, the only made hands are A-A, K-K, Q-Q; I don’t include the J-J in the hole.

But don’t do it when you are in a late position. Almost always, opponents who have already paid to see the flop won’t fold at that point. The pot is too big, and they only need to call a minimum bet to see the three cards on the flop — that shows them over 70 percent of their final hands.

Another exception would be when you hold a premium drawing hand (A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q) before the flop. That’s not the time to thin the field. Wait and see if the flop improves your hand. For example, starting with A-K offsuit, you can expect to pair one of your two hole cards about one out of three times. Should that happen, then it would make good sense to raise it up on the flop to thin the field, giving your top pair a better chance to hold up all the way to the river.

As if those two examples were not enough, the Esther Bluff tactic has yet another — less obvious — benefit: Your opponents will soon observe how your racks of chips have grown. Intuitively, many of them will hesitate to play against you when you raise. Now your bluffs have even more chances of being successful. Try it, you’ll like it.

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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