Victory to the bluffers

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Let’s talk about bluffing, a well-established poker strategy to encourage opponents to fold hands that might be better than our own.

One mistake some players make is to avoid bluffing. Indeed, some players say they never bluff. They play solely to end up with the best hand. Much too tight! Most likely they are losers. Others at the table soon become aware of this playing trait.

When such a player does make a great hand and bets out or raises, opponents are prone to fold, unless they too have caught a big hand. So the pots he wins are rather meager. But there are other costly bluffing mistakes players may make.

A player can bluff too often. His opponents soon realize he is a “bluffing maniac,” so are more prone to call his bluffs. That’s bound to cost him lots of chips. And mistakes can be made when you are doing the bluffing.

Suppose, from a middle position, you are drawing to the Ace-high nut flush with 9 outs, but failed to connect on the turn. No surprise, the card odds were about 4-to-1 against you. You have one more chance to connect – on the river. There are two opponents still in the pot with you. The first checks. Now it’s your turn to act, with one more opponent behind you.

The smart player ponders: What kind of players are my opponents? Neither is particularly deceptive nor shown any particular strength up to this point. How do they perceive me?

You have been playing rather tight and as a result they are bound to respect your action. On that basis, a bluff has a good chance of succeeding – winning the pot for you. Actually, it is a semi-bluff. If one of your two remaining opponents decides to call, you still have a reasonable shot at the nut flush on the river. In addition, you might bluff again if you miss. A double-barreled bluff often works to the bluffer’s advantage. Besides the pot is big enough so even if there is a 50-50 chance your opponent will call, you are still getting a positive expectation.

Despite the favorable pot odds versus their card odds, they would have given up the chance of taking the pot with a good bluff. There are many other mistakes related to bluffing. We will discuss some in future columns.

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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