Poker is a mental game, considered as such in many countries around the world, and as such has a lot to do with psychology.
Probably one of the most psychological aspects of the game is bluffing. Bluffing is a strategy used by many players, indeed any player can bluff.
But doing it successfully depends on a number of factors. Let alone recognising them. One of the most complicated tasks, but one that can also bring the most profit to any player.
We must also take into account the variant we play. The most popular is Texas Holdem, which is the one for which most of these theories will apply, but there are other options as well.
There are tricks to winning at Omaha, strategies for winning at three-card stud poker, and tips for success at pot-limit variants. And all of these also influence bluffing, although there are still aspects that are universally applicable and apply across the board.
Keys to spotting a bluff
The most important thing we can find to know how to recognise a bluff is the reading we make of the opponent.
His style of play and his image at the table will weigh heavily, as will his previous behaviour in other difficult games.
If he has bluffed repeatedly in other hands, he may be very prone to bluffing. But it may also be that he has done so because he had no choice in that particular hand. Being aware of this will give you an advantage.
Of course, the cards on the table and taking into account the probabilities of outs is also crucial.
The cards themselves and your opponent’s plans are what can lead you to recognise a bluff, or to be very sure of it.
And the same goes for betting. Taking the initiative or preferring to be submissive, raising very aggressively or just checking and waiting, or calling only if your opponent raises. All of this also helps us.
But what you also need to know is that bluffing is just another aspect of the game and as with other arts, you need to be trained for everything.
Learning from the Professionals
First and foremost, the professional player, or the player who wants to become a professional in the future, has the mission to continue training and learning the game. Not only on their own, but also by following the legacy of other great players.
There are great poker books that every poker geek should have read, if only in passing, and in many of them the art of bluffing is unpacked. Doyle Brunson’s book on his 50 unforgettable hands is a good example of how a pro behaves when bluffing, or even the all-inclusive Harrington on Hold’em by Dan Harrington himself.
Very influential books that give a close insight into how the biggest names in classic poker deal with bluffing and many other strategic points of the game.
Having a clear reference of what to do in a specific situation can be decisive for any player.
Although this would be more of a tip than a trick, but it all adds up if what counts is winning and beating your opponent’s hand.
Bluffing on the first few streets
During the flop and pre-flop is probably where your opponent is least likely to bluff.
It may be the case that a player has been earning the image that he plays very few hands and only opens on the hands he is almost certainly holding.
And then he starts betting and stealing small pots, as the other players will not want to compete against him on those turns. In that case we will talk about bluffing.
half bluffs and bluffs in poker, the difference between them
On the flop you have to be especially careful with “semi-bluffs”.
Half bluffs are hands that are bluffing but have the potential to turn into a better hand if the cards on the table are good enough to do so.
They are often used by players, sometimes even to detect pure bluffs. Of course, a powerful re-raise after a semi-bluff can end in disaster.
And, above all, if you notice that your opponent is very likely to fold, then bluff on these streets.
Otherwise there is little point. And if several players open, then forget about it.
Bluffing in the River
On the River things are quite different, and that’s because it’s the lane where most bluffing takes place.
The pots on the river are bigger than the pots on previous turns and therefore there is a greater chance of bluffing. But following the basics you can detect them.
Perhaps the most complicated thing is when there are flush or straight draws on the table.
The opponent lets you take the initiative and just call, and then on the river he raises to an amount close to the pot of the table.
This is a difficult situation, but calling can be a good option. We may be bluffing.
Betting is also key to bluffing in the river. A player who has previously bluffed a lot may tend to raise a third of the pot on the river with a bluff.
Here, again, it will be difficult to decide; but calling may be the answer again.
Especially if you spot your o pponent’s possible project that he has not been able to complete on the river, you can also force him to reveal himself by passing on your turn.
Then he will have to dive in and you will have caught him in the act. Bet and collect your chips.
The margin of error in bluffing
To understand all this you have to bear in mind that bluffing depends on the player’s own interpretation of the strategy that his opponents are following.
In other words, they are deductions that are not certain. There is always a margin of error.
We may miss some detail or, simply, that the opponent is choosing to try to surprise by carrying out a move, for some masterful, and for others really crazy.
Don’t end up being disappointed if you make a mistake when it comes to evaluating a bluff. Turn the page and think about the next play. Even throw in a couple of hands to try and recover from the blow.
Never lose your composure, a bluff is never accurately detected. There are risks and taking them is the true art of poker.