Rules for successful bluffing in poker

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Having read about the Esther Bluff (now called “the Esther” by Arizona Stu and others who have learned its secret of success), a reader recently asked me to write a column about the art of bluffing.

For successful bluffing, there are certain rules to be followed, and it requires skill in executing tactics designed to improve the probability of deceiving your opponent. As my first poker book (The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners), warns: “In pulling off a bluff, unless you are very good at it, don’t bluff. If you’re not skilled and often are caught, your opponents will be expecting the bluff and more likely to call.”

Bluffing would be costly in that case. But if you never bluff, your opponents soon realize this, making it difficult to build pots when you have a monster hand. They quickly fold and your full-boat on the turn is wasted. They have a good “read” in your play.

Estimated break-even for bluffing is 30%. When it fails, you lose the few bets you made attempting the bluff. When successful, you win the whole pot. The goal is to exceed the break-even.

My rules for

successful Bluffing:

Develop an image as a tight player who is selectively aggressive, raising on occasion. (Note: Bluff less for awhile after you get caught.)

Do not bluff too often. (Opponents become suspicious of frequent bluffers and then are prone to call.)

Tight players who check are easiest to bluff out.

Do not try to bluff out a “calling-station” (always calls on the river).

The fewer players to be bluffed out, the easier it is (and vice versa). It is difficult to bluff more than three opponents at a time. Much depends on your evaluation of the opponents involved.

Stealing the pot on the flop, a form of bluffing, works best if the flop is weak and no one bets out before you. (It’s not a large pot, but it will pay for several blinds.)

A check-raise bluff (with a large raise) is effective in no-limit games, but more likely to be called in limit games. (In limit games, the check-raise is best for building pot size.)

Semi-Bluffing is quite effective. With many outs but not a made hand, you bet on the turn, hoping to force out your opponents. If you are called, you still have a reasonable chance of catching the winning hand on the river – or you can then bluff again.

Never show your hand unless required to do so when your bluff is called. It is to your advantage not to give opponents information.

Become adept at the best tactics for bluffing – more important in limit games than in no-limit games. The latter offers the bluffer the power of a huge bet (even going all-in) as an additional “weapon.”

Best Tactics

There are two tactics for successful bluffing. My bluffing statistics are more than double the break-even. I have written about the Esther Bluff and the Richard B. Reverse Tell, but will briefly review the essence of these for readers who may have missed those columns.

The Esther Bluff (created by my then 11-year-old granddaughter) is actually quite simple in concept. When bluffing, Esther would bet exactly as she would with a monster hand. With that mindset, bet with confidence: “You know you have the best hand.” Your opponent’s brain picks up on those electric brain waves and responds by encouraging him to fold.

Richard B.– the official Tells Expert for our Claude Pepper Sr. Center Poker Group – suggested a “Reverse Tell” to reinforce the Esther Bluff: Just lean forward in your chair as you make your bluff while your opponent contemplates his response.

For comments and questions, contact George ” 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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