We doubt great poker players don’t bluff

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There are poker players who never bluff!

Recently, an acquaintance who loses consistently in the casino, asked me to sit behind him and observe his play for an hour or so. He was great at starting-hand selection (he uses the Hold’em Algorithm), but I never saw him bluff. He played only to show down the best hand. With that style of play, it’s hard to go home a winner (unless you’re awfully lucky).

Coincidently, underlining this mode of play, a poker magazine ran a column about a “prominent” poker player on the Colorado poker scene – who NEVER bluffs!

Let’s call him Dan. He claims to be a winning player despite never bluffing. I have doubts. Smart players use every “weapon” available.

My Experience

There are times when I don’t get a decent starting hand or one that fails to develop for the first hour or so. But if I do gain six or more outs (say, two overcards to the board), and the situation seems “right,” I will often go for a semi-bluff on the turn. If I am lucky to connect, that’s great. If I miss, and the situation still seems “right,” I may bluff again on the river.

Winning those bluffs helps me stay in the game even as the rakes surreptitiously plunder my stacks – even faster in a short-handed game.

What’s a “right” situation?

The board is not threatening and none of my opponents shows strength. There are no raises on the flop. Also consider the type of player each is.

Back to the Magazine

The columnist commented: “You’d think (Dan) must use his super-tight image to bluff now and then.” No way! Dan, who plays primarily low-limit hold’em cash games, stated, “It’s not a big factor in the games I play.” Instead, he relies on knowing his opponents and poker math. To his credit, he states, “Know your pot odds, know your outs, get a range on who’s in the hand.” Good advice.

But you miss a key point, Dan: Your image and how you use it are BIG factors in every poker game! If you don’t take advantage of it, your opponents will.

Why give your opponents a huge tell? If you only play strong hands and never bluff, opponents soon learn and avoid getting heavily involved in those hands – unless they hold a strong hand.

“I can’t project a table image,” Dan says. “Heck that’s too much work.” But, in fact, he does project a tight table image – even if he doesn’t work at it. It’s fully exposed for his opponents to see! That’s a huge tell!

Yes, there are such super-tight players; they fold hand after hand until they are dealt a strong starting hand. I prefer to be seated to their left. If they come out betting after the flop, I will need a very strong hand to call to see the turn. Sometimes they win. There may be some opponents who foolishly chase them all the way to the river.

Mix it Up!

Most experts recommend you vary how you play your hands so it’s more difficult for your opponents to play against you. Even if a bluff fails occasionally, it’s OK for the sake of your table image. Just don’t do it too often, or they’ll be calling you down every time you try to bluff. Fact is, Dan had a tight image; it would make good sense to take advantage of it, and bluff occasionally when the situation seemed right.

FYI

I am writing a new book, The Art of Bluffing. You should see it advertised here in the near future.

“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].

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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