The Bluffing Primer Part 1
Bluffing is at the core of poker with real opponents. There is no bluffing in video poker or Caribbean poker which explains the popularity of these games. In Texas Holdem bluffing occurs on almost every hand. It pays to look at bluffing as an essential part of a beginner’s course in poker.
The Inordinate Fear of Bluffing
In 1977, when Jimmy Carter was in the first few months of his truncated presidency, he gave the commencement address at Notre Dame University. He spoke about Americans’ “inordinate fear of communism”. We will not take sides in the political debate. Instead we will talk about poker and many players’ "inordinate fear of bluffing".
There are Two Types of Bluffing
The kind of bluffing that everyone associates with it has to do with pretending to have a better hand than they really have and coercing opponents to fold. The second type of bluffing is not usually called bluffing but we will call it so because it fits the lesson we want our poker players to internalize.
This form of bluffing is not letting on when you have a good hand!
Let’s see how the two forms of bluffing are interconnected. The first type of bluffing frightens many gamers. Despite feeling that everyone “will see through you” it is important to bluff from time to time. You need to learn how to pick and choose the moments suitable for bluffing and then try to pull off a bluff.
If you never bluff, it would normally mean that you bet only when you have a very good hand. A pair of aces or a pair of kings might be the betting limit for such a player. If they never bluff and bet with those good hands, their holding will be an open book to everyone. So, like it or not, everyone who plays poker has to bluff!
Players are afraid to bluff because they feel that they will “give it away”. Many players do give it away. The way we give our weak hands away is called having tells. We can also give away our strong hands with tells. So the very first two keys to successful bluffing are to stop being afraid of dong it ourselves and learning how to divulge nothing in our facial expression or our bodily movements.
The Value of YouTube Clips
We don’t extol the value of watching YouTube clips about poker because these clips only show the highlights. They don’t show the 70-80% of hands that players fold before the flop. Of course, most of the players do fold before the flop but they are never the focus of that particular clip.
Seeing in real life how players succeed in divulging nothing over the course of a hand is one of the truly valuable lessons we can learn from watching YouTube clips. Watch how deadpan the really good players are when the flop looks like a useless trio of cards but it gives them a powerhouse hand. Watch how they play a bluffing hand from start to finish also showing nothing that would give it all away.
People sometimes talk about practicing in front of a mirror. It might be better to film yourself dealing cards to a hypothetical table. In this kind of practice session, you are playing every hand. You have to show no reaction even when you get a good hand.
The Basics of Bluffing
If we said that poker players couldn’t learn anything about bluffing until they has successfully cured themselves of every tell, we might never learn anything else about bluffing. So, we will now proceed to talking about bluffing all the while assuming that every player is assiduously practicing the art of showing no emotion at the poker table.
By the way, there are also tells in online poker but the most common tells are all seen and done in land based poker games.
Bluffing is an Opportunity
We struggled looking for a single word that would accurately describe bluffing but we couldn’t come up with one. Bluffing is at the same time an option, a strategy, a trick, an opportunity and more. Surely everyone reading this can come up with a way to describe and define bluffing.
We would like to concentrate on the aspect of bluffing as an opportunity.
The Opportunistic Person
In many walks of life, in many professions, in many things we do or would like to do, we all wish to be the opportunistic person who bought Google when it was first offered.
Being opportunistic is not the same as throwing darts at a board. It means studying situations and people. In this sense, bluffing becomes a lot more complicated than it might seem like on the surface. You need to evaluate the opposition correctly and the opposition will almost certainly change from game to game. You need to evaluate your betting position and its effect on your chances to bluff a poor hand successfully.
On the other hand, when you do get a good hand, or even more commonly, when the flop makes you virtually unbeatable, you need to know how to misdirect the opponents into thinking that you are bluffing a and hand when in fact you are protecting a good hand and milking it for all it’s worth.
We might play poker a few hours a week but we can look around ourselves and learn from the opportunistic people we know and try to be opportunistic ourselves. This might seem impossible but observation is a very powerful tool in many situations, not just in poker!
Never Smile after a Successful Bluff
Americans know very well one of the most important rules of baseball: never show up an opponent. Even if a player has hit a monster home run, he rounds the bases with a perfect deadpan on his face. When a pitcher makes a batter look like an amateur, he simply takes the ball back and immediately gets ready for the next batter.
Just as there is no crying in baseball there is also no gloating in baseball!
The same rule of thumb applies to bluffing. Never smile, gloat, or brag after a successful bluff. Conversely, never berate an opponent for falling into a successful bluff by misplaying the hand. There are YouTube clips of a famous poker player doing that very thing.
Bluffing has to be a gentlemanly way of lying while playing poker. Your opponents will hate you if you gloat and especially online if they know you’re in the game they just might leave.
Never Show Your Cards after a Successful Bluff
You always want the opponents to be unsure of whether you bluffed or really had the nuts. Never show them what you had! This applies to every hand not just to bluffs but many players want very much to show the others how well they bluffed the hand.
Don’t ever do it!
Bluffing is a Giant Side of Poker
Bluffing is so big that we will return to it often in our long course for beginners. We also hope that more experienced players have gotten some help from this and our other articles in this series. We will talk about bluffing again soon.
In the meantime, we wish everyone the best of luck, super flops, a minimum of being bluffed out of a good hand, and a maximum of successful bluffs!