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Several people have asked how best to use the Esther Bluff. It was created by my granddaughter about eight years ago.

I was teaching her to play Texas hold’em, just as I have for my seniors’ poker groups. The difference was it was just the two of us at the table. To make sure there were enough “players” to make it more like typical games, I dealt out four hands to each of us.

The preflop betting began. I had also taught her the Hold’em Algorithm, helping to decide which hands were worthy of investing to see the flop. On almost every deal, Esther had one hand with which she raised. Then, on the flop, she always made a continuation bet (although I had not yet taught her that strategy). Most often I folded; so she took the pot – time after time.

After a while, I became suspicious: Could Esther be bluffing? I looked for tells. None I could discern. Betting/raising with a lot of confidence, she had persuaded me she had a very strong hand, encouraging me to fold my (presumably) weaker hands. Her chip stacks grew taller.

I decided to test her by calling her continuation bet when I had a playable hand. Then, more often than not, my hand took the pot. So was born the Esther Bluff tactic: When appropriate, bet/raise with much confidence. Often, your message will find its way into your opponent’s brain, convincing him to save his chips, as the dealer pushes the pot to you.

Soon after, sharing this concept with my seniors’ poker group at the Claude Pepper Senior Center, Richard B. had a eureka moment: “Use a reverse tell as part of the Esther Bluff to reinforce the alleged strength of your hand. Lean forward in your chair as you confidently act the role of a winner.” That is now the Esther Bluff that is so effective. There is a sound scientific basis for its success.

Obviously, the Esther Bluff should be one of your tactics when trying to bluff out an opponent so you can “steal” the pot from him. The other, more familiar tactic – of which most players are well aware – is making a big bet/raise. Use both when bluffing.

Depending on the circumstances, the Esther Bluff can be effective before the flop, as well as on any of the next three rounds of betting. If you are in a late position, and the preflop betting has been folded to you, your raise – a bluff reinforced by the Esther Bluff – usually will earn you the blinds. It’s wise to be holding at least a marginal starting hand in case one of the blinds decides to call your bluff. (Never try to bluff out a calling-station.)

After the flop, if an opponent who called your bluff (steal attempt) comes out betting and is called by another player, give one or both credit for a big hand, especially if one of them is a tight player. Quietly muck your hand. A bluff on the turn, reinforced by the Esther Bluff, is a semi-bluff. If you are called, look carefully for any tells your opponent might offer.

Note: When you hold a made hand before the flop (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q), thin the field by forcing out several opponents. Ideally, you would like to play that hand against two or three opponents. (Four or more opponents would make you an underdog.) You might benefit by following up on the flop with an Esther Bluff continuation bet.

Needless to say, should you get lucky and catch a big set on the flop, consider a change in tactics. If the board indicates no danger of a straight or flush, slow-playing or check-raising would be wise. Now your goal is to build the size of “your” pot!

Yes, the Esther Bluff can be a powerful ally. It can easily make the difference between a winning or a losing session.

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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