How and When to Bluff in Online Poker Games
Without bluffing, there would be no game of poker. If players simply tried to make hands, the whole game would descend into swapping money around, with no long-term winner. The fact that you can bluff, representing a hand that you do not have, adds a unique strategy element to the game which makes poker the fantastic game we enjoy today.
What you’ll find as you gain experience at the tables, is that bluffing is a complex area. If you thought that bluffing was all about going all-in to put pressure on opponents, then you are only partially correct. There is an element of pressure, though the situation, board cards, tendencies of your opponent and your winning chances when called are all vital too.
This page covers the ins and outs of poker bluffing, starting with the concept of balance and storytelling – before going on to the factors which make bluffs work.
Before You Bluff – You Need to Bet Strong Hands
Imagine an opponent with the following tendencies. Every time he has a weak hand, he bluffed by betting big. Every time his hand was strong he checked or bet small, hoping to induce an opponent to go all-in (to try and bluff him!).
This player would be super-easy to beat. You could call the big bets whenever you had a hand. You could also check behind when he checked, giving you a shot at improving.
This is an extreme example, though thousands of players are doing versions of this in poker games every day. If you ever meet someone that always limps with aces pre-flop, then you will know that whenever they raise in the same spot, aces are not in their hand.
Before you consider bluffing, you should factor in how this fits into your range of holdings. If you bet on the flop, then make sure you do this with strong hands too, otherwise your opponents will be able to read your bets and take advantage. If you only raise high cards (for example) and the flop comes with low cards, your bet will be less likely to be believed by observant opponents. Balance and telling a story that makes sense for the flop cards and your range of starting hands are both prerequisites for successful bluffs.
Playing the Player – Opponents and Bluffs
Some players are very easy to bluff, while others are almost impossible. You will find some opponents in poker games who will call with a wide range of hands before the flop, and then play ‘fit or fold’. These types will fold to any bet after the flop if they miss, only continuing if they connected in some way. You can often bet any flop against this type of player – getting enough folds to make it profitable. Since they do not adjust to your bet size, you can bet small (around 1/3rd of the pot is enough), making your bluff even more profitable.
The opposite type of player never folds, no matter how speculative their hand or draw. This type is known as a ‘calling station’. Bluffing with no hand against this type is simply burning money. Since they never fold, you are inflating the pot for no reason. While sometimes a continuation bet will work, you are better off reducing bluffs to a minimum against this type of player. Instead, wait until you have a strong hand and extract 3 streets of value from them!
These are extremes, in real games you will find players in-between these types. Some people will always call with drawing hands, while others will bet with them. Some opponents will slow-play big hands and bet when weaker. In all forms of poker taking note of how opponents play and making bluffs specific to their style will help you win a lot of money over time.
Other Factors Affecting Your Bluffs
The table position you hold for a hand is an important factor in bluffing. If you are first to act in a multi-way pot, then your bluffs should be rare. If you are last to act, and your opponent(s) check to you – then they have shown weakness and you can take a stab at the pot. Whether you were the pre-flop raiser will also make a difference. The standard play is to ‘check to the raiser’ on the flop. If you bet into the raiser, this is showing a lot of strength – do this rarely to avoid becoming exploitable.
The texture of the flop is a key element in deciding whether to bluff. If the flop comes Q-7-3 with 3 different suits, there are very few hands which might have connected. This is known as a dry flop. You probably will not need to bet big to get folds on a flop like this. Compare this to 8-9-10 with 2 clubs. Here plenty of opponents will stick around with draws to straights and flushes. This is not the type of flop to bet into several opponents on.
Finally, your own chances of improving your hand make a difference to your bluffing frequency. If you have a draw to a flush, and otherwise missed the flop, then having opponents fold to a bet is one of two ways you can win the hand. If you do get called, your hand can improve, leading to winning a bigger pot on later streets.