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A builder prepares the ground before construction of a building. Actors need the stage properly set for a successful acting performance. A speech is most effective when the speaker sets the stage as a lead-in to his message.

There must be appropriate preliminaries before deliver the punch line. Get the audience mentally prepared to accept your message – convinced. The same is true when you plan to bluff at the poker table. Lay the groundwork for your bluff; prepare your opponents for the ultimate response.

When making a bluff, don’t just suddenly come out betting or raising on the river. That may work sometimes, but it’s likely to raise suspicions so your opponents are more inclined to call you. In that case, more often your bluff will fail!

Even using the powerful Esther Bluff tactic and the Richard B. Reverse Tell, without laying the groundwork for your bluff, your chances for success will be diminished. So how can you best set the stage – lay the groundwork?


In a middle position in a limit game, you look down at K-Q offsuit in the hole. A great start: It readily meets the criteria of our Hold’em Algorithm reference: Hold’em or Fold’em?– An Algorithm for Masking the Key Decision. In fact, it is a premium drawing hand.

An early-position player limps in. Now, it’s your turn to act. At this point, a raise can accomplish several things for you. Those opponents behind you, including A-rag and small pairs, are more prone to fold against a double bet. That removes from contention players whose hands are favored over yours.

You are at less of a disadvantage in the competition to take the pot at the showdown. It may also buy you position when your opponents behind you fold their hands. The later your betting position, the more edge you have over opponents who declare before you.

Those who have already invested in the pot are likely to call your raise. But even if only the limper calls, chances are you are well ahead of him. If he held a strong hand, he likely would have raised. You will have isolated the limper and have position over him – all to your advantage.

Even if the blind(s) called, your raise also strikes fear at least, a lot of respect into their hearts. You have set the stage laid the groundwork – for a bluff.

Depending on the flop, you may or may not decide to proceed with the bluff. If the flop gives you a monster hand say two kings fall on the board, that puts a different light on your strategy. Your trip Kings is almost certain to win the pot.

Now your goal to build the pot as big as possible. Slow play to keep your opponents in the fray so you can extract chips from them in later rounds when the bets are doubled. No need to bluff in that case.

But, more often the flop doesn’t help your hand. Let’s say it’s three small cards, rainbow (three different suits). It probably didn’t help an opponent either. Remember, your opponents do not know how strong your hand is, but they do know that you raised preflop.

They respect perhaps even fear you.

Almost certainly, they will check to you on the flop. Now you can bet out and there is a good chance they will fold to you. The groundwork leading up to your bluff is effective. The pot is yours.

Even if one opponent persists in calling, you still have two overcards to the board – six outs, so you are actually semi-bluffing. Hopefully, you have evaluated your opponents and know that the caller is not a Calling Station.

You cannot bluff out a Calling-Station, so don’t try.

Even if you fail to connect on the turn or river, you ought to go ahead with your bluff on the river. You have laid the groundwork, and hopefully your remaining opponent will fold, leaving the pot for you.

(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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