Poker bluff

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It can work, even in low limit games

Right now, you can catch World Series of Poker action on ESPN TV, which will continue through the Final Table set for November.

In watching the players, it’s evident how often these top, aggressive poker players use bluffing as part of their repertoire of talents.

No doubt, many of them wouldn’t have advanced so deeply into the tournament if it weren’t for bluffing.

It’s understandable how bluffing can work when the stakes are high. No one wants to lose their seat because they guessed wrong about an opponent’s bluff.

That’s probably why many players assume that bluffing won’t work in low stakes games and tournaments. With not much to lose, players won’t be deterred by a possible bluff, right?

Not actually. Bluffing can and does work in low-limit games.

Obviously, it’s easier to bluff in high- and no-limit games. You have the power of a big bet as a weapon to induce your opponent to fold when you are bluffing. But it does work in low limit games, as well.

I’m living proof. I play $3-$6 and $4-$8 limits, and my bluffs work for me over 60 percent of the time. With break-even at 20-30 percent, you can readily see that bluffing is highly profitable for me.

I would agree that most players are unsuccessful in trying to bluff in low limit games. But the key to success is to use smart tactics when bluffing, and consider each situation on its own merits.

For me and my students, the Esther Bluff is a powerful tactic. (Considering that my granddaughter, Esther, created this tactic before she was 10 years old, it can’t be too difficult to employ.) Plus, Richard B’s reverse tell is a strong ally. (Richard is one of my top poker students.) And our Poker Lab jointly decided what to do with your eyes when bluffing.

For these tools to be effective they have to be used with discretion, even though I have alluded to them in the past. But, as you would obviously agree, if everyone knew how they worked, they wouldn’t be effective.

So if you’re interested, drop me an email and I’ll give you the particulars, but only if you promise not to tell everyone else about them!

Otherwise, here are some other bluffing considerations. If you bluff too often, your opponents will soon become wise to you, and call whenever you try to pull off another bluff. We all know that you should not try to bluff a “calling station,” so you need to have a good understanding of how your opponents play.

Every hand is not suitable for bluffing. Each hand presents a different set of circumstances. Consider whether there has been heavy betting/raising preflop, or on the flop. It’s almost impossible to bluff on such a hand in low limit; why try?

On the other hand, if the betting suggests weakness among your opponents, a bluff might be appropriate. You need not be poker genius to realize that it is much easier to bluff against one opponent than against several.

And, by all means, look for tells. Observe the players to your left before you decide to bluff. If they are tight or conservative players, and indicate that they are going to bet, bluffing would be ill advised.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted 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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