Target those timid poker players to cash in your success

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Recently, we reported on our bluffing statistics since introducing the Esther Bluff. With over 70% success, our bluffs far exceed an estimated break-even of 40%. Today, I will share some interesting bluffing tips.

Opponents

A key factor to success is the kind of opponent you want to bluff out. Timid and tight players are your best targets. Bluffing is less likely to work against aggressive and deceptive opponents. You can never be sure against loose players. Generally, you can’t bluff out a player who is almost all-in; for a few more chips, he is bound to call – “just in case.”

Image

Definitely important. How do your opponents “see” you? I usually start a poker session carefully adhering to the criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm. As a consequence, I fold the majority of my starting hands. So, I have a tight image. That image helps to make my bluffs all the more believable – and successful.

Bluffing Frequency

Avoid bluffing too often; then your opponents will become suspicious and more likely to challenge you. What is too often? That depends on the game, the situation, the players. On the average, I believe one or two bluffs an hour seems about right. However, there have been times when I have been able to successfully bluff three hands in a row.

Position

Also important. Late position – especially the Button – is easily the best position at which to be playing. Observe your opponents’ actions. If no one has limped in before your turn to declare (i.e., everyone checks to you), you may be able to steal the pot with a bluff-bet.

This applies to every round of betting. In case you are called, it is wise to hold at least a marginal drawing hand that could still connect for the best hand. If you strongly suspect an opponent is trying to steal the pot, consider trying to bluff him out: bluffing the bluffer.

From a late position, tend not to bluff after a raise. Also, your late-position bluffs are less likely to be raised. That could save you some chips. Early-position bluffs should be relatively rare. You might use it pre-flop to set the stage for a bluff on the turn.

Timing

You have decided to bluff against one remaining opponent who has just checked to you on the turn. Your timing can influence your opponent’s decision whether or not to call your bet. Is it best to act quickly or should you delay your action?

A long pause before making your bluff-bet could signal you are trying to figure out your hand, perhaps estimate the card odds vs. the pot odds. The long delay indicates some uncertainty. Your opponent would then be more inclined to call your bluff.

On the other hand, betting without any hesitation could be considered a strong tell, suggesting to your opponent you are bluffing by acting strong with a weak hand. Mike Caro calls this a “universal tell.”

On this basis, Caro’s suggestion of a brief hesitation, perhaps 2 to 3 seconds, does appear reasonable. After all, you are trying to represent a big hand for which a short pause is appropriate as you consider your various options.

Actions During Hand

If you have been betting or raising all along during the play of a hand, then your opponents are more likely to fold when you pull the Esther Bluff on the River. (This is especially so when you have a tight image.)

It’s foolhardy to try this against an opponent who has been betting consistently or raising; he must have a hand of some value and is not likely to give it up without a fight.

The size of the pot matters, too. It’s easier to bluff an opponent out of a small pot; but the Esther Bluff has worked for me in large pots, too. 

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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