About Bluffing in Poker

Bluffing, a term that certainly worked its way into everyday English, can in poker be defined as trying to win a hand with your bet rather than with your cards. It is as much an art as it is a science.

Although a successful bluff can win you pots outright, your unsuccessful bluffs (bets where you get called and hence "got caught running without the ball," as former world champion Amarillo Slim Preston liked to say) can also help you out. Your opponents' belief in the possibility that you might be bluffing increases after you've been caught in the act. This allows you to win much more money on your strong and even medium strong hands, because your opponents will call you thinking you might be bluffing. If you have a reputation as a very tight, conservative player who doesn't bluff, players won't call when you bet.

Naturally, if you find that your reputation is conservative that when you bet, players fold faster than Superman on laundry day (think about it), you can take advantage of that reputation by betting when you don't have a good hand: bluffing. You will probably be allowed to get away with this for a while, but sooner or later, someone will suspect that perhaps you have altered your style, and call you. You'll lose that pot, but now if you catch good cards, people will pay you off. Indeed, you may have heard players say, "You have to advertise to get called on your good hands. Except to lose on your bluffs so you can make money the rest of the time." This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in poker and has cost more players more money than almost any other "conventional poker wisdom," because actually it is not wise at all.

The reality is that in the course of making bluffs that you hope will succeed (win the pot), you will get caught/called often enough to do all the "advertising" you need. People will remember these unsuccessful bluffs, and because they are looking for excuses to play, and hate the idea of getting bluffed out of a pot, will later call you when you actually have a real hand. This means you certainly don't need to make bluffs you know will fail.

Bluffing because you "have a hunch you might get away with it" is not a good reason for bluffing. You should have a plan, just as you do for playing any hand. The plan might be that your intended victim has been playing tight or scared poker; it might stem from a scary board that creates the impression you have a strong hand, or rely on the fact that you haven't played a hand for 45 minutes and therefore currently have a tight image (don't relay on this last one too much, because you'd be amazed how little attention other people pay to you when you're not actively involved in hands).

These are just a few good reasons to bluff. Your plan should involve bluffing more when you are not likely to be called and bluffing less when you are. That kind of decision is based on observation and playing of situations, not whim.

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