Concepts: The Bluff

The bluff is an active deceptive move.

  • Your hand can't win in a showdown?
  • But you still want to win the hand?

Then you'll have to bluff.

  • To bluff means to play a weak hand aggressively.

Explanation:

You bet or raise despite having a weak hand, so it's almost always possible to bluff. You don't need a good hand: you're willingness to bet is enough.

You actively set the pace of the game. In this way you exert the pressure necessary to win lots of hands immediately.

But successful poker is measured in the number of chips won, not the number of hands.

Motive:

You are in a situation where you don't think you can win the hand at the showdown. So you have two alternatives:

  • You give up on the pot (fold) or you bluff.

Most times you should fold. If you decide to bluff, you're aiming to win a pot with a hand that isn't good enough. Your primary goal is to win the pot immediately. But even if you don't achieve this goal, you have at least done some advertising for your good hands.

Execution:

In order to successfully bluff you must find the answers to these three questions:

1. How likely is it that all the other players will fold?

In answering this question, the following factors are particularly important:

  • Table image: the more solid the hands that the table has seen from you so far, the more likely it is that they will fold against a bet from you (here: a bluff bet).
  • Opponents' profile: bluff against tight players, be careful against loose ones. If a player tends to always go to the showdown as soon as he has at least a pair, avoid bluffs against "calling stations" like this.
  • Position: position is information. Since you don't have confidence in the strength of your own hand, it is especially important to recognise weaknesses in your opponents' hands. Most pots at a poker table are vacant. Whoever finds the weakness of the others first will win these pots. When you're in position you can see what your opponents do before it's your turn to act.

2. How many chips can you win with which bet?

Assuming you know that your current hand will definitely lose if you don't bluff or if your bluff is called, then your reward-risk calculation is as follows:

You risk a bet in order to have the chance of winning the pot. This means that you have to believe that your bluff attempts succeed at a more favourable ratio than the ratio of the bluff bet to the pot.

When the bluff bet equals the pot size, the success-to-failure ratio must be at least 1:1, because if your opponents fold, you win the pot, but if you're called, you lose a pot size bet. With a bluff bet that is 20% of the pot size you risk 20 for 100. This means that it would be sufficient if one bluff in five attempts is successful (20:100 = 1:5).

3. What is the ideal frequency for bluffing?

From a mathematical point of view this question is easy to answer: The frequency with which you bluff must equal the odds that you are giving your opponents by doing so.

What does that look like in concrete form?

The bluff bet of 20% of the pot size mentioned above gives every opponent odds of 1:6 (100 in the pot + 20 bet = 120; the call is 20, thus 20:120 = 1:6). Let's assume that an opponent can only just beat a bluff. If he knows that you hardly ever bluff his decision is easy: fold. If he knows that you bluff all the time, he'll call. You force him into making the most difficult decision when you make this 20% bluff bet in exactly every seventh situation (1:6)! Your opponent has to decide between two equally disappointing alternatives. His one-seventh of a chance of winning (1:6, because he wins only if you are bluffing) is exactly the same as the ratio of what it would cost him to win (20:120).

His dilemma is as follows: if he folds, he knows that there is a possibility that you will steal the pot. But if he calls, he knows that in six out of seven cases he will simply be giving you money. The consequence is that if you bluff with the correct frequency, you will be a much better poker player than someone who bluffs too often or not at all. A player who never bluffs gets no action. A player who always bluffs gets as much action as he wants, until his money runs out. But the player who bluffs with the correct frequency can't be figured out easily and continually forces his opponents to make difficult decisions, some of which have to be wrong.

The following examples illustrate the relevant factors in various forms:

A pure bluff pre-flop is by definition not really possible. This is because every hand can win, and a player automatically holds at least a weak semi-bluff.

Example 1:

You consider the attack from the button to be an attempt to steal the blinds and decide to re-steal. Both the reward-risk ratio (14:5) and your considerable chance of winning if you're called are untypical for pure bluffing.

                Bluffing becomes clearer post-flop:

If you're called you will often have almost no chance at all. But the pots become more attractive and more lucrative in the course of the game. You know that your own hand is too weak to win a showdown, so you either give up on the pot or you bluff.

Example 2:

Your dubious pre-flop call is embedded in the concept of bluffing useless flops with a bet-out. If you view the flop decision individually, if B folds in two out of five cases that's enough to have a positive scenario.

          Assuming that the opponent folds in more than 40% of cases (2/5), your decision to bluff is a good one.

River bluffs have to be looked at separately. We know which hands we can beat at best at the showdown.

        A bluff only makes sense if and only if you see a chance of forcing additional opponents to fold.


Example 3:

You have paid pre-flop with suited connectors and checked your straight-draw on the flop. Your opponent checked behind.

The turn gives you an additional flush-draw.

Because your opponent also showed weakness on the flop you take the opportunity to semi-bluff, but you're called.

The 8 on the river doesn't help you.

  • You will almost certainly not win in a showdown (10 high).
  • An 8 in your hand can be represented consistently throughout all the rounds of betting.

You decide to bluff on the river.

Conclusion:

Analyse the situation as carefully as possible before you bluff. The opportunities for bluffing occur frequently.

 

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