Here’s what powers live poker’s Esther Bluff

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I have often wondered why the Esther Bluff is so effective. For those of you who have discovered its amazing power at the poker table, you too probably have had similar questions.

 How does it really work?

If the break-even for bluffing is about 30%, how do we account for the fact that the Esther Bluff tactic works about 70% of the time for me? And it should work even better if I was playing in a no-limit rather than a limit game – larger bets make it more prohibitive for an opponent to call a bluff. (I’m sure the Richard B. Reverse Tell adds to its effectiveness.)

When teaching the Esther Bluff tactic to my poker classes and workshops, I explain that it works simply by betting with confidence and self-assuredness – as if knowing you hold the best hand. Somehow, I explain, that message reaches into your opponent’s brain. Then, convinced you have a better hand, he tosses his hole cards into the muck.

Your bluff has worked! You take the pot. But how does it really work? Why is it so effective?

So I was rather excited when I read about a new development at the Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in the State of Israel. Aha! Now I had the answer. Now I understood how the Esther Bluff really works; why it is so successful.

A team of software engineering students, with the support of several BGU professors in different departments, have developed innovative technology that could enable people to operate a computer without using a keyboard or a mouse – only their brain waves.

According to Professor Rami Puzis of the BGU Department of Information Systems Engineering, the technology is designed to assist those who are physically disabled who would otherwise be unable to manipulate a computer mouse or keyboard. A noble cause! (Bill Gates: Are you listening?)

The students have demonstrated the technology by developing a prototype portable helmet with devices that sense the disabled person’s thoughts and concomitant brain activity, and transmit them to, in this case, a computer that then responds accordingly.

They were successful in sending a hands-free e-mail message. Brain waves – thoughts – can be transmitted from one person to another who will then react just as the computer did.

Certainly, we humans cannot see spoken words or sounds; nevertheless they are transmitted through the air to our ears, which translate the air waves into words we can understand and act on. Likewise, our thoughts are transmitted by what are often called brain waves – invisible to our eyes but still very real.

That’s exactly what you do when you use the Esther Bluff tactic. The opponent receives these brain waves. If they give the “right” message, the opponent folds his hand, leaving the pot for you to enjoy and add to your stacks of chips.

Having said that, there are some precautions: Be aware that all people will not react the same way to the thought message. For example, a Calling-Station is prone to resist the message and call you anyway. Avoid trying to bluff out such players. Likewise, an opponent with a big hand is likely to reject the message.

Don’t try to bluff out an opponent who may be holding a strong hand. Focus on opponents who may have a small pair or, you believe, were drawing to a straight or flush but did not connect. These players will be more receptive to your brain message – to the Esther Bluff.

One other caution: Don’t use the Esther Bluff too often. Be selective in choosing the opportunities that best fit the action.

(For comments or questions, George “The Engineer” can be reached 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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