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A well-known poker pro recently participated in a Q&A published in another poker publication. It was an intriguing feature article. And the question posed was a very good one: “What are some major mistakes that less experienced players make when attempting a bluff?”

The pro’s response: “In order to run a successful bluff, you have to make your opponents think (the emphasis is mine) you have a reasonably strong hand that beats whatever they have.”

I was struck by his use of the word, “think.” In my humble opinion, the more appropriate descriptive verb here is “believe.” (This is an important point.)

It may be OK to make your opponent think you have a better hand than his, but simply thinking implies a measure of doubt in his mind.

He cogitates; he ponders; he speculates; he thinks to himself: “Well, maybe he doesn’t have a better hand.” Now your opponent hesitates; he pauses before acting on his initial notion. He stops to deliberate and analyze the situation. “Hey,” he recalls, “that guy tried to bluff a little while ago.”

He scans his notes (assuming he takes notes at the table) and, sure enough, sees a notation, “bluffs,” jotted alongside the bettor’s seat position. “Could this be another bluff? I’m going to call and see.”

Making him a believer: When one believes in something, he has a firm conviction; he accepts it as true and factual. So a really good (successful) bluffer can convince his opponents he has the best and winning hand. He makes them believe – not just “think” that is so. Thus they fold, leaving the pot to our really good bluffer. (And I don’t have to tell you, a really good bluffer will win a heck of a lot more chips than an average bluffer.)

What tactics can you use to make him believe – convince him – he should fold his hand in response to your bet (or raise)?

In a no-limit game, bluffs can succeed when the bluffer makes a huge bet – say, the size of the pot. Now the bluff-target is getting only 2-to-1 pot odds to call. The odds against his holding a better hand are much greater, perhaps 5-1, in his opinion. The pot odds just don’t measure up to warrant a call. The bluff succeeds.

On the other hand, in a limit game, the size of the bet is severely constrained, and much smaller. A successful bluffer in such a game needs more than the size of the bet to convince his opponents to fold. As we have explained in previous columns, that’s where the Esther Bluff comes into play.

The idea is to bet in such a way that you actually get into the minds of your opponents. Bet with confidence – just as you would if you held a monster hand. “You know you have the best hand!” I like to use the Richard B. Reverse Tell to reinforce the Esther Bluff. They make a powerful team!

Mind you, this tactic can be used in both no-limit and limit games, but it is essential to bluffing success in limit games. It even works in low-limit games, despite what many poker experts might warn. (I keep notes, so I know for a fact!)

By getting into your opponent’s mind (via the Esther Bluff, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell), you have made a “believer” of him. That’s the best tactic you can use every time you decide to go for a bluff.

In conclusion: When bluffing, making your opponent “think” you hold a better hand than his, may work some of the time. But, your success is bound to be much, much greater if you can make him “believe” he is beat. It’s your option.

“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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