A bluff in poker is essentially a lie. You are telling your opponent that you have a strong hand when in fact you have a weak hand. In both lying and poker, the key to success is telling a believable story. If the facts you present don’t make sense, you’re going to be called on it.
The key to telling a lie in poker is to present a believable story. You can’t just blindly put bets out there and expect your opponents to believe you. You have to build up to your ultimate lie by dropping hints along the way. A simple bet here, a raise there, or maybe even a feigned slowplay early in the hand can set you up for that big bet on the turn or river that buys the pot for you.
Tell a believable story
The lesson to take from this is that it is important to plan your bluffs in advance. High success bluffs arise from you planning the bluff before you make the bluff. Low percentage bluffs are usually a result of desperation – a draw didn’t come in and that player decided to throw a huge bet on the river as a last resort to win the pot.
That’s not to say you have to plan every bluff from the very beginning of the hand. Sometimes you can exploit opportunities that appear in the middle of a hand. But you still have to tell a believable story. Look at how the hand has been played so far and ask yourself if a bet here would fit with the actions you have taken in the hand.
For example, let’s say the turn brings an Ace. A bluff on that card is much more likely to succeed if you raised before the flop compared to if you limped in on the button behind two other players. Why? Because players with high cards tend to make raises before the flop, so it makes sense that you would bet on the turn when an Ace comes.
That’s just one example of many. Before you attempt a bluff, look at your play from your opponent’s point of view. Does your story add up or is it all scrambled and lacking cohesion? The more everything adds up, the more likely it is that your bluff is successful. If your actions are all jumbled up and confuse the opponent, there’s a better chance you will be caught.
Know your audience
A big part of telling a story is knowing how to tailor that story to your audience. In poker, the same thing holds true for bluffing. Some opponents are perfect suckers for bluffs, while others are too dim-witted to do anything but call bet after bet. It’s up to you to know which is which and to adjust your strategy accordingly.
The best poker players to bluff against are those who are the most timid. Tight players, rocks and scared players are all prime targets for bluffing. Some opponents are so timid that you don’t even have to tell much of a story. A simple bet is all it takes to send them running with their tail between their legs.
Other opponents are a little more difficult to bluff, either because they are calling stations or are very perceptive. Both opponents are dangerous bluffing targets and should be approached with caution. Calling stations should rarely be bluffed anyways, because there are easier ways to take their money. Smart players should be bluffed from time to time just to keep your game unreadable.
Don’t blame others for failed bluffs
Be willing to take responsibility for your failed bluffs. We all make bad bluffs from time to time and the best thing we can do is learn from those bluffs. If an opponent makes a horrible call and catches your bluff, the worst thing you can do is call that opponent an idiot and move on with your life.
Bluffs go wrong because you either tell an inconsistent story or you failed to know your audience. Some opponents simply can’t be bluffed – and it’s your responsibility to identify those players. If a bluff goes wrong, the best thing you can do is analyze what went wrong and learn from your mistake.