Thanks for joining us for another installment of our poker fundamentals series. Up to this point, we’ve gone over pot-odds, ranges, and aggression. In this week’s episode, we’re going to dive into one concept that epitomizes the poker playing experience: bluffing.
When people think of poker, their minds immediately go to bluffing. You know—guys with sunglasses on, hiding behind their ‘poker faces,’ taking chips from the meek, weak, and honest folks who can’t see through their lies.
Let’s be real though. It might not be as glamorous as it seems in the movies, but bluffing is one of our favorite parts of the game. There’s nothing that feels as good as getting away with a big bluff, winning a pot that we “honestly” had no business in contesting.
Like everything else in poker, there’s a lot more that goes into it than just jamming your chips and calling it a day. There’s strategy, timing, and many other factors to consider. Let’s take a moment to go into the basics of bluffing.
Why Do We Bluff?
Before we get into when to bluff, we need to figure out why we bluff in the first place. This will inform our entire discussion.
The first reason that we bluff is to make profit with our bad hands. The truth is that it’s actually really hard to get a good hand in NLHE. We’re not often dealt good cards, and, even when we do have something in the hole, we often miss the flop.
However, we shouldn’t just give up on these hands. While we can’t just play every hand we get, we also shouldn’t leave chips on the table by refusing to play any. Remember, our opponents also have a hard time getting good hands.
Occasionally bluffing with bad hands lets us realize value with them that we never would be able to otherwise.
The other main reason that we need to bluff is to disguise our good hands. Playing bad cards to make your good cards better may seem counterintuitive, but it’s necessary if we want our value to get paid off. If we never bluff, then nobody will ever call our bets.
After all, a flush isn’t worth anything if everyone else just folds.
Timing your Bluffs
Bluffing is a careful art, and it ultimately all comes down to your timing. You need to pick the right spot to fire your bullets if you want to have the greatest chance of success.
While you shouldn’t ever do anything all the time, as it makes you too predictable, one factor that goes into your timing is figuring out how likely your opponents are to fold. If you’re up against a calling station, then bluffing is useless. However, if you’re playing with a tight player, then they will often fold to bluffs.
Another great time to bluff is when you have the initiative. If you raised pre-flop, then you made a statement: I have a good hand. Once the flop comes, whether you hit it or not, you can often fire a continuation bet because people are more likely to put you on a strong range.