The most frequently associated term with poker is without a doubt bluffing. Thanks to dozens of poker and casino movies as well as the World Series of Poker being on TV, most people believe that a game of poker is being won over a stone cold bluff or a twitch of an eye.
Poker bluffing is vital to any player who wishes to win money at the poker tournaments. If a player will only play strong hands and bet only when he is almost certainly winning then he will become predictable and hence will never be called. The move from brick and mortar casinos to online card rooms has changed the way people bluff in more than one way. First of all, there are much more good players, maybe more than ever. Good online poker players are very technical and are aware odds and statistics. On the other hands, bad players have no idea about the facts of poker bluffing or how to approach it. A bad player will most likely call any bet you will make, disregarding his or yours hand. This turns poker bluffing into a much riskier business. Yet poker bluffing is still essential to every poker player.
Poker bluffing requires understanding and awareness of several elements in the game: The number of the opponents on the table, the poker player types at the table, your ability to 'read' your opponent's plays, the image you created for yourself at the table, the cards on the board postflop, your position in the hand and the size of the pot already on the table, among others. Each of these factors has a great deal of importance in the execution of a good bluff. Let's elaborate on each of the.
The amount of players in the hand - Naturally when you are bluffing your best interest is to have as few opponents as possible. The more players there are in a hand, the more chances one of them will call you to the end or actually hold a strong hand. Also, the more players there are in a hand the more money gets in the pot and hence the pot becomes more desirable for players to stay in.
The type of your opponents - It is very important to know what type of players you are up against. Bad players usually call any bet. They will actually call any bet you will make just to see your cards. Bluffing against weak players is utterly useless. Make sure that you are up against a player that is good enough to fold a bad hand (even if it's really better than yours).
Your 'read' on the other players - This is a skill that usually grows only with experience. If you learn your opponent's and can more or less predict which hands they are playing and how, you will be able to bluff more easily. If you know how a certain player bets when he does not have the best hand postflop, you can easily exploit it for a successful bluff.
Your image at the table - If you are a loose player and tend to play more hands than most players, it will be quite hard to pull off a bluff. If you already got caught bluffing most players will remember you that and will call your next bluff. This is mostly psychology. You need to assert a certain image to the other players. If they will see you as tight player that plays only solid or next to solid hands, an occasional bluff is most likely to go unchallenged.
The cards on the board - Learn to recognize the value of the cards on the board and how they can benefit your opponents. Know how this affects the relative strength of your poker hand. Check how many possible draws the board can give to your opponents. The wanted post flop situation is a board consisted from two garbage are just unrelated cards and a strong card that you can claim.
You position in the hand - A late position is favorable in most, if not all, bluffing situations. The more people acted before you the more info you have on their hands. If all players checked or called to you, this might be a favorable situation for bluff. On the other hand, if someone raised and had been re-raised this definitely is the time to fold.
The size of the pot - This is a very tricky element. A large pot attracts more players and presents more risk to you. A large multi-way pot gives better pot odds to your opponents and hence more challengers to the bluff. Then again, a successful bluff in a large pot will give you more money. Deciding which hand is the right to play requires good judgment and good understanding of the above mentioned concepts.
Only after gaining a good grasp on each of these concepts you will be able to see profit from poker bluffing on the long run.
Daniel Former, Editorial Staff
December 20, 2005