Bluffing and Tells are Twins

Let’s talk some more about bluffing in poker and in Texas Holdem specifically.  Texas Holdem has become the most popular poker game at Juicy Stakes Poker online poker room and at almost all other poker rooms online or on land.  So it behooves us to concentrate our tutorials on Holdem.

Bluffing is no Bluff

Bluffing is so much a part of poker that we have to face it head on if we hope to improve at poker.  Improvement at poker at first means minimizing losses.  After we are able to hold our own at the poker table in long sessions, we can say that improvement in poker involves maximizing winnings.

Getting really good at bluffing is the key to both minimizing losses and maximizing winnings.

Avoiding Giving it All Away

We have spoken about bluffing with a poor hand or at least a hand that is borderline bettable.  This is the most common sense that most poker players have when they talk about bluffing.  But as we said in a previous article, bluffing also involves not revealing that you have a powerful hand.

This involves eliminating all of the tells that are common in beginning poker players.  We will list a few of the most obvious, openly apparent, and difficult to eliminate tells.  In the next article, we will offer some expert advice on how to get rid of tells.

Getting rid of tells makes you as closed to your opponents observation as possible and, in the long run will result in many more won pots and a lot more money won in those pots.

The Most Common and Pernicious Tells

First we have to recognize that tells at land based poker rooms are a lot different than online tells.  Many poker players claim that online tells are extremely unreliable.  That is true but it is also true that visual tells at land based poker rooms are also unreliable.  As we said in the previous article, bluffing is about misdirection and one of the best ways to misdirect an opponent is to demonstrate a “tell” that is not a tell at all!

So, here are three online tells.  These are not visual tells since you can’t see your opponent so they are tells from a totally different perspective.

  1. Timing
  2. Positional play
  3. Size of bets 

Timing Tells

Always keep in mind that what seems to be a tell may not be one or may be a reverse tell.  Timing is the general term for several actions players make.

For example, a player who raised in early position and now is taking a little more time than we might expect to call or raise after the flop may very well be trying to make you think that they have a borderline hand at best instead of the very strong hand they really have.  This is a very good example of a misdirection tell.

It is a good rule of thumb that players who call or raise before the flop do so in reverse order of their position.  That is, the closer a player is to the big blind, the more likely a call or raise will not be a bluff.  However, since so many players rely on this rule of thumb, you also have to feel out your opponents in the early rounds of a session to see if their timing seems to bely this general rule.  If it does, you might have a tell on them!

Conversely, a player who bets too quickly may be bluffing outright.  This is common among newer and less experienced players who have not yet learned that they have to bet at the same speed on all hands whether they are bluffing or not.  Any change in the speed of a player’s bets will cause the other observant players to think twice before calling or raising that player’s bet.

Positional Play

As you saw from the first example above, there is a great deal of overlap between timing and position.  Timing is much more difficult to read; some players who are playing slowly and seem to be telegraphing some information about their hand may just be inexperienced and are trying to figure out the presumed strength of the opponents’ hands.

Positional play is a lot more straightforward since every new poker player learns quickly how to play in position. It may be difficult to remember all of the nuances of positional play but even the newest players know to bet in first or second position only with fairly strong hands before the flop.

They also know that from time to time they have to bet with a relatively weak hand in early position.  They may telegraph the early position bluff by the way they bet.  Do they bet too fast or too slow?  Do they call or raise the big blind?  A call in very early position will most often be this type of bluff; the player is willing to risk some money but not more than they have to. 

That usually is a clear indication that they don’t have a good hand.  It also means that a low card flop might help them more than it helps anyone else and puts the players still in the pot on notice to look for any signs that the limper in early position may have been helped tremendously by the flop.

The blinds have money in the pot already.  So they have to be careful to protect their investment and a sizable bet from a player in late position will indicate either an outright bluff or a very good hand.  There is no in between here or at least there shouldn’t be.  The blinds have to factor in the position, the size of the blinds themselves, the previous betting activity of the raiser, and the size of the raise.  It is a lot harder to read online tells at the start of a session than it is later on.

Bet Size

Once again, we see overlap between the categories of tells we have presented.  Bet size can be divided into extremely low bets, extremely high bets, or normal sized bets.  Again, a lot depends on the player, in which position they made the bet, and whether the bet fits into a pattern an observant opponent may have deduced from the player’s play. 

At This Juncture

We have just scratched the surface of bluffing and tells.  We can make a preliminary conclusion about what we have learned so far.

  1. Every bet can be either a bluff or the real thing.  A new and inexperienced player may bluff without even knowing that he or she is doing so!
  2. Position is one of the few factors that can help us determine if a bet is a bluff or indicative of a strong hand.
  3. Timing is another indicator and here timing usually refers to the speed or lack thereof of any bet taking into account the player, his or her position, the size of the pot, and other parameters that might affect the bet.
  4. The size of a bet may be a powerful tell.  It is not at all unusual for an inexperienced player to make a very large bet with a powerful hand, counting in their mind how much money they will win when the opponents call!  This mind game may be the greatest online tell of all!

What about the Other Poker variations?

The other popular poker variations such as Omaha and Omaha High/Low are excellent games in their own right and deserve some attention later on.  We don’t have gobs and gobs of space for any single article so we will concentrate our attention for the time being on Texas Holdem.

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