Playing poker, your goal is to win lots of chips; the more, the merrier. There are two ways to do it:
One way is to hold the best hand at the showdown; That’s fine; but remember, at a full table of nine players, on average, in the long run, you can expect to make the best hand just one out of nine hands. The odds are 8-to-1 against you.
You can effectively reduce those odds by being more selective in your starting hands; and stay in after the flop only if your drawing hand improves.
The second way is to bluff out your opponents. In my book, The Art of Bluffing, I quote from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Bluffing is “deceiving by pretense or a show of strength.” And, it is vital to going home a winner. By inducing your opponents to muck their cards, you take the pot by default.
If you never bluff, you are bound to be a loser. Skill is important in bluffing. Do not bluff too often, lest your opponents get wise to you and start calling your bluffs.
Be aware of your opponents’ playing traits. Tight and timid players are easiest to bluff out. But never try to bluff out a calling-station. Once he has invested in the hand, he is likely to stay the rest of the way. An aggressive player is also hard to bluff out. Better not to try.
Always resort to the Esther Bluff tactic. As described in my book, it’s making your bluff bet (or raise) while displaying much confidence and self-assurance — just as you might after catching a monster.
At the same time, use a “reverse tell” such as the Richard B. Reverse Tell — i.e., lean forward in your seat. It’s O.K. to display a bit of nervousness (not too much), which adds to your authenticity. Then peek once again at your hole cards as if to further reassure yourself.
My book explores various forms of bluffing. The most common is betting or raising enough chips to convince your opponents to fold their hands. That’s fine in no-limit games; but difficult in limit games.
Bluffing can also help you to gain position over your remaining opponents. When you catch a drawing hand with relatively few good outs, bluffing can help you to get a free card on the next round of betting when the bets are likely to be much bigger. Get to see the turn for free.
Other forms of bluffing are when you catch a monster, and resort to trapping, slow-playing, sandbagging, baiting, and/or check-raising to build the pot.
I learned the Squeeze Play from Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker. That works well when a very aggressive player raises pre-flop and is called by only one other player. Then, your re-raise (a bluff) may take the pot when both fold.
There is yet another way to bluff that is rarely discussed. When scare cards fall on the board, consider betting out or raising – as if you had just caught the nuts. That’s what you are representing.
Let’s take the case where you called to see the flop with a mediocre hand; and there were no raises. As is often the case, the flop did you no good. But it does contain evidence of a possible powerhouse.
Say, the flop shows A-A-x. With only two more Aces left in the deck, it is unlikely that an opponent holds an Ace in the hole — especially if no one raised pre-flop. The odds are over 2-to-1 against it.
To help convince your opponents that you caught trip Aces or better, grab a big batch of chips and lean forward before anyone acts. Your tight image also helps. It’s checked to you in a late position. Instead of checking along to see the turn, make your bet. Then take another peek at your hole cards as if for reassurance.
Sure, it’s a big bluff; but your opponents can only guess what your hole cards are.