No limit to bluffing in Texas Hold’em Poker

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In the May 1 GamingToday, my co-columnist Shane Smith presented an excellent discussion on bluffing, especially in limit hold’em games. I thought it appropriate to offer my own perspective on this important aspect of playing hold’em.

As Shane explains, limit games often go to a showdown but that should not deter a winning player from attempting bluffs even in low-limit games. It’s just a greater challenge.

By my estimate, break-even for bluffing is if your bluff works about a third of the time; so there can be considerable upside.

Lots of incentive.

I keep notes at the table so I know that my bluffs – using the Esther Bluff tactic, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse Tell – is successful about 70% of the time. That’s more than double the break-even. Sometimes, the bluffs are the difference between a winning and losing session. I call the “sheriff” that Shane mentions a Calling-Station (C-S) who cannot be bluffed out of a pot because he wants to “keep everybody honest.” Just evaluate your opponents so you know who, if anyone, is a C-S; and don’t try to bluff him out. With nine people at the table, there will be opportunities to bluff against the other opponents.

Often there will be a timid player who will fold after the flop if it didn’t substantially improve his hand. Unless a tight player has a strong hand, he can easily be bluffed out. Even loose players can be bluffed. As Shane points out, it is difficult to bluff out more than two opponents. Sure, it’s a lot easier to pull off your bluff against a single opponent. But if you evaluate your opponents and observe how they are playing this hand, you can sense weakness and take advantage of the situation.

Example: Let’s say your hole cards are A-Q suited. You flop four-to-the-nut flush and raise from a late position after three opponents had called the small blind’s bet. You are raising for value: the odds are less than 2-to-1 against making your nut flush on the turn or the river.

Knowing that all four bettors will call your raise (they do so invariably), you are getting 4-to-1 money odds. That’s a Positive Expectation bet and will make money for you in the long run. The turn is a brick; probably doesn’t help anyone. Because they respect (fear?) you, your four opponents check to you.

Again you bet; now it’s a semi-bluff because you have lots of outs. Now three of them are still in the pot. Unfortunately, the poker gods fail to cooperate and you do not make your flush on the river. If you check it down, it is almost certain that at least one of your three opponents has your A-high hand beat.

Knowing that none is a C-S or deceptive, and all have been losing (and hence are apprehensive and overly cautious), it’s worth firing out again and hope they all fold, leaving a decent pot for you to add to your stacks! But, as I mentioned above, don’t just make the bluff bet; use a tactic that creates the mindset you want.

All three of your opponents are convinced you hold a better hand than they have. Sure, in a limit game, it’s only a single big bet not an all-in bet as in no-limit games. And it works often enough – much more than a third of the time – to make it profitable.

You have set the stage by betting on the earlier rounds. Just be sure you have a viable bluffing tactic in your arsenal. If you would like to learn about the Esther Bluff tactic for effective bluffing, e-mail me at [email protected] I’ll even include the Richard B. Reverse Tell as a bonus.

“The Engineer” Epstein, a noted author and poker professor at Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center and at West Los Angeles College, is a member of the Seniors Poker of Hall of Fame.

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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