If you are just getting into playing poker online and are used to playing in brick-and-mortar venues, you might think that Bluffing in Poker would play less of a role since you can’t watch players for their tells.
But actually, bluffing tends to happen more frequently online than offline. This is because players are often less concerned about detection, since they know you can’t see their physical tells.
There are ways to pick up on bluffs even in the absence of physical tells, however, and you can still bluff your opponents effectively yourself. You just need to know what you are doing.
Following are some important pointers for Bluffing in Poker effectively while playing poker online or offline, as well as a couple things you should know about dealing with bluffing from others.
- It Happens a Lot
The first thing to know about bluffing is that it is very, very common. It is especially rampant online and among newbies.
Novices getting into poker vastly overestimate the role that bluffing plays. They think that it is something they should be doing frequently. It has a “cool” value which is hard to resist. They are excited to outwit their opponent with their superior capability for deceit.
So, especially if you are up against novices and especially online, be on the lookout for signs of bluffing.
When you notice patterns in how other players bluff (which can easily stand out if they do so a lot), you will be in a position to take advantage of your observations.
- Yes, You Can Still Identify Bluffing in Poker Online
In an online card room, you cannot watch your opponent’s body language. But that does not mean that you cannot tell if he is bluffing. There are other ways to get insights into how a player thinks.
The easiest way to do this is with the aid of poker tracking software.
The software saves you the hard work of manual note taking on your opponents.
But by making it possible for you to quickly and easily review how they have played past hands, you can search for patterns that can help you identify when they are bluffing in the future.
You should also be aware that many poker players are using similar tracking programs at all times to try and identify your patterns as well.
Never behave as if an opponent is likely to simply “forget” a mistake you made in the past.
They have your history of hands right in front of them, just as you do for them.
Not using poker tracking software yet? You are putting yourself at a major disadvantage. I recommend getting up to speed with a sophisticated program as soon as you can.
- Don’t Bluff Often
If there is one piece of advice which could help you to bluff more effectively if you are a novice, it is simply to do it less frequently.
Chances are good that as a beginner, you are as prone to over-bluffing, as most of your novice opponents.
Bluffing in Poker is a technique to be used very sparingly.
If you bluff too frequently, your opponents are going to pick up on that bad habit quickly.
Frequent Bluffing in Poker also tends to result in inconsistent play.
In order for a bluff to be believable, you need to play in an honest fashion most of the time which tells a consistent story about how you make decisions.
If players already recognize you as dishonest, when you really need a bluff to work, it won’t. Everyone at the table will think, “That person’s bluffing again.”
In another post, I compared this to the story of the boy who cried wolf.
I still think that is a simple and apt comparison.
- Try Not to Bluff Everybody at the Table at Once
The goal of any bluff is to get your opponent or opponents to fold.
It stands to reason that the more opponents are still in the hand, the more difficult it will be to bluff successfully.
Let’s say you have three opponents still in a hand. You bluff two of them successfully, but the third isn’t buying it.
At that point, your success bluffing out the first two is irrelevant. That third player has seen through you.
For this reason, bluffs are ideally reserved for times when you are down to just one (preferably) or two opponents.
If you only have one other player to bluff out, and he buys it and folds, you win the pot.
- Avoid Bluffing Fish
If you are up against novice poker players, it is often a waste of time to try and bluff them.
That might seem counter intuitive, since they are less likely to recognize your bluff for what it is.
But they are also less likely to fold, because newbie players often refuse to fold even when it makes sense.
The reason is that they want to be part of the action at all moments. Folding to them feels like failure, even when it is the smart thing to do.
So, if you do not think you have the best hand, you are probably the one who should be folding.
Otherwise, you will find yourself making the same mistakes that any other novice would and overplaying your hand.
- Avoid Thinking You Can Bluff an Opponent With a Better Hand, Unless You are Semi-Bluffing on the Draw
That brings me around to the next recommendation, which is not to try and out-bluff an opponent you are almost certain is holding a superior hand.
Say, for example, that you are holding a flush, but you are increasingly certain that one of your opponents has a straight flush.
In such a situation, it would be highly tempting to stay in, because a flush is exciting. And there is a chance that it is the winning hand.
But if you have every reason to believe that another player has a straight flush when you don’t based on the cards and your opponent’s behavior, it is probably more appropriate to fold.
Think about it from that player’s point of view for a moment. Let’s say that your opponent does indeed have a straight flush.
Watching you play, what will he assume that you have that can beat him, a royal flush? What are the chances?
Depending on the community cards, that might not even be possible. In that case, your bluff might appear to be ridiculous.
Hopefully, that example demonstrates why trying to bluff an opponent who could almost certainly beat you is unwise.
But there may be exceptions.
For instance, imagine that you are on the draw and have a chance at completing a straight, flush, or other high order hand.
In a situation like this, even if you believe that one of your opponents currently is holding more than you are, it may make sense to bluff.
Technically, this is considered a “semi-bluff”.
The reason is that if you do get that card you are looking for, you might then have the superior hand yourself.
So, you are taking a calculated risk, and are relying on the cards and not just your opponents to give you what you need to come out on top.
Hopefully, your opponents will fold, but if not, maybe you will still get your winning hand on the draw.
- Only Attempt to Bluff When Doing So is Rational
I have already said this, but it bears emphasizing: you should be Bluffing in Poker for one reason and that is because you think that doing so will rationally cause the other player to fold.
Bluffing is a strategy for finishing a hand, not starting one.
You should not, for instance, decide to play a poor hand with bluffing as your plan for making it work.
Bad hands should simply be folded. Bluffing is not an excuse to constantly jump into the action.
Again, this is the sort of behavior in which fish are prone to engaging.
You should only ever play a hand which is, to the best of your knowledge, genuinely strong.
It takes time, practice and study to know what that looks like.
But suffice to say, if you are a beginner, just as you should probably be bluffing less frequently, you probably also should be playing fewer hands.
Folding may seem dull, but it is frequently the best strategy.
You need to take risks to win, but they can be rational, calculated ones.
- Be Cautious About Bluffing in Poker With Huge Pots
If a pot is small, a bluff can be very effective.
You will learn to recognize situations where you can tell that everybody at the table is holding a mediocre hand at best.
You won’t see a lot of calling or raising going on. A lot of players will check. Nobody wants to put more money on the line, but nobody sees any particular reason to fold either.
You can guess at this point that other players are holding hands which are close to yours in value.
This is a scenario where you may be able to get away with bluffing. There isn’t a whole lot to gain by staying in, and a show of confidence on your part (especially if you do not abuse bluffs by engaging them too frequently) may be all it takes to get others to back out.
If there is just one other player left, this can be particularly effective.
Given such a scenario, it is also helpful to think about the opposite, and consider situations where there is a lot of money in the pot.
By this point, anybody who is still in is going to be fairly committed to their hand.
They have already staked a great deal. Whatever they are holding, they’re going to be subject to the Concorde fallacy.
If you are not familiar with the Concorde fallacy, it refers to a cognitive bias which predisposes us to want to stay in investments which we have already staked a lot in, regardless of whether doing so is logical.
So, an attempt to bluff will usually fall flat.
At this point, you had better hope that you are actually holding something decent, and are not simply in the hand because you also have fallen victim to this particular cognitive bias.
- If You Are in the Last Position, That Can Be a Good Position to Start Bluffing in Poker
The ideal position to be playing if you’re thinking about bluffing it is last or next to last.
The reason that this is a position which is ideal for bluffing is because you have more information about your opponents’ hands based on their actions than they do on yours.
If none of them are playing as if they have a strong hand, they may be willing to fold if they believe that you do.
- A Continuation Bet Can Make a Good Bluff
Let’s say that before the flop, you decide to raise based on your cards. Maybe you are holding something that on its own seems strong.
But after the flop, what you have doesn’t amount to much. Maybe, for instance, all you have is an ace high.
You have two options at this point. Either you can fold before you get any more invested in a sub-par hand, or you can make a bluff called a continuation bet.
The basis for making a continuation bet in a situation like this is that chances are better than not that your opponent is not holding a pair either (obviously, this is only to be used in specific circumstances—not when there is a good chance your opponent is holding something better).
So, if all you both have is a high card and you call or raise, there’s a good chance that your opponent will fold.
This is especially likely because you raised pre-flop. You are creating the impression that you started strong and have continued that way, and that everything has gone according to your plan.
- Learn When to Abandon Bluffing in Poker If it Isn’t Working
Finally, one of the most difficult scenarios to navigate when it comes to bluffing is when your opponents call your bluff, but may be bluffing themselves.
You will need to think hard about the cards that are on the table and the ones that may be in their hands.
If there is a significant chance that they are not bluffing and are holding stronger hands than you, it is probably time to fold.
But if you have reason to believe that their hands are roughly on par with yours or are weaker, you may want to stay in.
One thing that can help with this is to take a look at the data you have gathered on their previous hands and how they have made decisions.
It is important to analyze each player as an individual.
The right decision against one opponent might be the wrong one against another.
And don’t forget that they are probably doing the same thing with you.
The Where to Play Some Poker
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Conclusion: With Practice and Patience, You’ll Bluff More Effectively
As a beginning poker player, you will probably not use the bluff to its best effect when you are starting out.
It takes practice to learn how to bluff well, and it takes patience to know when not to bluff.
But as you gain experience, you will become better at spotting prime opportunities as well as situations where you ought to avoid bluffing.
Used sparingly and strategically, it can be a powerful tool in online and land-based poker.
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