When I first had enough success in Poker to make it my full-time job, I struggled with having the conversation. My parents called it gambling, but couldn’t argue with the consistent financial results I was seeing. My brothers thought it was cool and wished they had the time to learn the strategies. My friends complimented me and thought my major in psychology and ability to read people was the secret. New acquaintances thought I must have a good poker face and asked me if I wore sunglasses at the table. These conversations made me uncomfortable because there would never be enough time or interest to accurately explain how it worked and what I was actually doing to be successful.
One of the sexiest things that you can do in Poker is bluff. As you can probably guess from above, a bluff has many meanings depending on who you are talking to. To most amateur players, a bluff seems like it requires rubbing dirt on your hands like Maximus before battle in the movie Gladiator, followed by a deep dive into the opposing player’s soul. Other players think a bluff means putting all of your chips in the Pot regardless to show the most strength possible. There’s yet another group of players that physically stand up and leave the table because they don’t want to “give anything away”. You’ll see this stuff on TV because it’s entertaining. While a bit less showy, The Poker Model will help you find the correct spot and amounts to bluff, ultimately making you successful. We can all agree that making money and spending it however you please wins over the rush of being involved in a Hollywood bluff.
A bluff in Poker is used to deceive by a show of confidence in strength of one’s cards. What we’ll need to be clear on is how, when and why to execute a bluff. Quite simply, we perform a bluff by betting or raising our opponent off of his hand when we are not confident in ours. For example, when we miss a Flop and make a continuation bet or perhaps we are Check/Raise bluffing after our opponent bets. The correct time to make a bluff can depend on tournament level, stack size, table position and/or player image. In “Accept All Gifts”, we break down an example of a Pre-Flop bluff attempt because the player on our right had a lower stack, raising our chances of success. Why do we bluff? We bluff because good cards will not always come to us. For example, you may go for hours without receiving standard playable hands. Bluffs give us the ability to continue to grow our stack even without the cards. When bluffs are strategically planned and executed, we can disguise our poor hands and still win Pots.
Should we show our bluffs and taunt our opponents so they go on Tilt? Remember that “tilt” is when a player loses a few hands and starts to play extremely loose in an effort to get back to where they were, essentially throwing their money away at the table. Do what you please, but The Poker Model suggests never showing your cards. The logic here is that it is less likely that you will have a good hand than a bad hand. Follow the thinking and see that you’ll make more continuation bets, preflop raises and bluffs without good cards. When you throw a player on Tilt they are more likely to be out for blood and may start playing back at you with more aggression. This will be good if you happen to pick up a big hand, but not so much when you don’t.
In today’s example you will see a bluff. Pay close attention to how, when and why this bluff is attempted and open your mind to the thousands of spots that may be available for you to make similar plays.
I’m in the Big Blind holding 8-2 with blinds and antes at 30/15/300. I have no plan at this point in the hand except to see what happens. If there is an early raise, then I’ll probably fold. If every player in the hand called the open raise, then I may call with 8-2. There would be so much money in the pot that it would be worth it to call with any two cards. Any 3-bets or 4-bets would be an instant fold for me as well. I have about 42 big blinds and will certainly see a bet spot moving forward.
Everyone folds and the action is on the Button. Recall that the Button is the best position on the table because you are last to act Post-Flop and can steal the blinds Pre-Flop. This hand just became slightly more interesting to me because the player on the Button may attempt to steal the blinds. Remember that fewer people to your left implies fewer big hands to your left, leaving mediocre and bad hands that should fold to your raise. If everyone to your left folds, then you win the blinds. The Small Blind has under 20 big blinds which means that he should either move all-in or fold to a raise. He’ll have to pick up a hand to move all-in, so it is less likely for the same reasons. Also, the Button has about 45 big blinds meaning he can afford to lose his open raise and still have plenty of chips.
The Button makes a minimum raise to $600 and the Small Blind folds. This tells us that the Small Blind must not have had a hand to move all-in with. To review, we have a player making a min-raise from prime table position to appearing to steal the blinds, there are no other players in the hand, and we both have plenty of chips. While we do not have to make a bluff here, the how, when, and why tell us that we should:
- How? Make a 3-bet here to 2.5 times the open raise.
- When? When the Button attempts to steal your big blind, you have a bad hand, and plenty of chips.
- Why? It’s likely he has a bad hand as well and will fold.
I make the raise to $1500 with 8-2. To the amatuer this will look competely nuts, but after reading the information in this article, we see that it’s calculated and low risk. Keep in mind that we are still not guaranteed anything at this point in the hand. What we’ve done is found a good spot with logical reasons behind making a bluff. My opponent could be holding big hands, like JJ+ or A-Q+, where he could raise us back (4-bet) to something like $3750 forcing us to fold. Maybe he is fully aware that his original raise looks like a steal, giving us the credit to 3-bet bluff, making him raise to $3750 executing a 4-bet bluff! We recommend making your move and then shutting down if unsuccessful. Remember that we’ve only made the original bluff because we could afford to do it.
One last scenario that can occur is when our opponent calls our raise; we’d then see a Flop and make a continuation bet if we miss, check if we flop something mediocre and bet if we flop a big hand. This is how we would play out a normal hand with the only difference being we are playing with 8-2 instead of our normal playable hands. Many times a hand like this can turn into a gift as we saw last week.
Nice! Our opponent folds and we pick up a pot that we had no right winning. His fold reinforces that his original raise was more focussed on stealing blinds than actually having a big Pre-Flop hand.
Before you make a big bluff, remember to ask yourself how, when and why. Do not randomly choose to attempt a bluff. Also do not over bluff, as eventually you will give back all of the chips you have won by bluffing! While putting on the hat and sunglasses poker uniform is a thrill, we must not lose site of the strategy behind the mask. More focus on the technical places to bluff and less showiness will keep your game tight. Soon the cards will not matter and any two will do.