Bluffing in Poker
A Beginners Guide to Bluffing in Online Poker
Without bluffing, there would be no game of poker. If everyone bet when they had a strong hand, and checked (or folded) when weak – poker would simply be moving chips to whoever had the strongest hand dealt. Bluffing is a complex topic, and is much subtler and nuanced than the hail-Mary ‘all in’ with nothing that many new players imagine. This page takes you through the main considerations when contemplating a bluff.
First below, you’ll find some key reasons why bluffing is an essential part of profitable poker play. I then cover the main types of bluff in turn. These are the continuation bet, the semi-bluff, the big river bluff and the ‘post oak’ buff.
Why You Must Bluff Sometimes
Any player who does not bet or raise with ‘nothing much’ on occasion is going to be super-easy to play against. If this player bets, then you know they have a hand – and you can react accordingly. If they do not bet, then everyone knows they are weak (and can bluff them off their hand!).
On the other hand, if someone bets every time with or without a hand, they risk losing big pots. In poker games consistently building a big pot without a hand is dangerous. Those times you get your bluffs through will not make up for those times you lose large amounts of chips.
The best strategy is to bluff often enough to balance against the times you are betting for value. This keeps your opponents guessing – and makes you difficult to play against. The 4 types of bluff I have outlined below can all be used in different situations.
The most common bluff takes place on the flop. This happens when a player took the lead in the betting before the flop, making the last raise. Usually, a hand will be checked to the raise on the flop. If that player missed the flop, then a continuation of their preflop aggression will often win the pot. After all, 2/3rds of the time an opponent will miss – and they often give up without a hand.
Continuation bets can be good value. Betting half the size of the pot will give you great odds – making this bet profitable over time. There are some situations where this bluff will not work enough of the time to be profitable. Examples include a flop with a lot of straight and flush draw possibilities – and situations where a lot of opponents see the flop.
If you spot someone who continuation bet bluffs every time they have the opportunity, then there is a good defense. You can call their bet (this works best if you have position), and look to take the pot away if they show weakness later in the hand. This is known as the ‘float’ play. A lot of players will fire once on the flop, and then give up if they do not improve on the turn. These are ideal opponents to float against.
The Semi Bluff
Of all the bluffs, the ‘semi-bluff’ is the most powerful – this type of bluff has a backup plan!
This is a big bet when you have a drawing hand. For example, you flop 4 to a flush, and bet big. At the point you bet your hand might only be ace-high. This is unlikely to be the best hand. With 2 cards to come and one heart (for example) needed to complete your flush, a bet can be very effective.
Several good things can happen. First, everyone might fold – in which case you win a nice pot. Second, you might get called and hit your hand on the turn or river and win a very big pot. Third, next time you bet out with aces (or maybe a set), then your opponents will remember that time you bet with a flush draw – increasing the chances you’ll get paid off.
There are some even better candidates for semi-bluffs. Straight draws are good, as people are less likely to give you credit for this hand. A pair and flush draw combination will also give you more opportunities to win if you are called.
All-in with Air!
Sometimes a big over-bet with air will win you the pot. What you need to do here is work out your risk vs reward. This type of bluff works best when your play tells a good story. A common mistake with this type of bluff is to shove all-in after missing a big draw. This is too obvious to experienced players and can be easily picked off.
While an occasional resteal or short stacked all in at the bubble of a poker tournament can be profitable, I recommend saving this type of bluff until you are experienced enough to see the danger signs that you’ll be called.
The Post-Oak Bluff
I’ll end with a strong and subtle type of bluff. Again, this move needs the hand to show a consistent story to be profitable. The idea is to make a very small bet on the river, and make it look like you are trying to get value from a monster hand. You might bet 20% or 30% of the pot.
To make this work you need your opponent to be a good hand reader. To him it will look just like the type of bet you’d make with a nut hand to get that little bit more value.