"You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." – Abraham Lincoln

By far and away the biggest part of the game of poker is the ‘bluffing’ aspect of it. To be able to deceive players into thinking one thing when you really mean another can be the most profitable way to play the game. Bluffing though can be misplaced and like most things in life if you get the timing wrong it can lead to disastrous consequences both to your chip count and your potential reputation.

Because bluffing can be so contentious the following ideas and thoughts give you an idea as to WHEN to bluff, WHEN NOT TO bluff and when to recognise if someone else is bluffing themselves. After reading all this then its down to you!

Typical reasons to bluff…

1. When there aren’t that many other players in a pot.

It’s easier to trick one person than it is six. With fewer cards to worry about (everyone has two remember) then the less chance that someone has made a good hand. Good players are aware that this is the best time to bluff and will make a bet at this point more often than poor players. Of course even good players know that they ‘can’t fool a fool’ so good players will risk more, in these situations, than bad players as bad players want to see their opponents cheaply and probably won’t risk all their chips calling an all-in bet on Ace high. The risk is, of course, that the good player gets his hands caught in the till and gets called by the made straight on the river by the bad player. Cest La Vie!
You need to know the players before you use this type of bluff.

2. When you’re up against fairly tight players.

Those players that play only the best cards are the easiest types to bluff. If you’re aware that a player only plays a pot with A-T or better and the flop comes 5-7-8 then a bet here will almost certainly lead to the tight player folding. If your holding is, say A-9, and the tight player calls your bet then its time to shut up shop as they have something. One bluff is fine, two is just asking for trouble.

3. On the river.

For a bluff to work after the river card has fallen you must be VERY AWARE of what your opponents actions were up until that point. If he’s called your bets from the flop onwards then it’s fairly likely that they were looking for something. Perhaps a flush, perhaps a straight? If the river card produced either of those possibilities becoming a reality then you shouldn’t attempt a bluff. If it didn’t then go ahead!

4. You’re in late position and everyone else checked.

Betting in late position is a time old tradition. How many times have you seen the button raise? Does that mean they have the best hand every time? No! What this DOES accomplish though is the removal of a number of hands from the equation of the hand. You may have 2-3 and raise on the button, if it’s been checked to you! If someone was ‘slow-playing’ then they’ll come back with a further raise and you can give up on the pot. Of course the further raise might be a bluff to match your bluff but last to speak usually wins these kind of arguments.

5. You bet pre-flop and missed.

It’s pretty much expected that the pre-flop raiser will bet again after the flop. This can be dangerous though as your opponent might have hit whilst you missed. Sometimes holding A-K on a flop of 2-6-7 isn’t a bad bluff bet but holding A-K on a flop of 9-T-J isn’t worth a bluff unless you truly know a Queen is coming!

6. You have given other players "the fear".

Playing good hands well give a perception to other players that you’re a good player. This can be very useful when bluffing as other players are then more likely to give you some respect when you bet. If your poker nickname is ‘Crazy Larry’ rather than ‘Rocky Roger’ then you can expect a different way of thinking when you try to bluff at a pot.

7. When the flop isn’t so great.

When you find a lot of good players at the table, and still in the hand after the flop, its always worth a bet on a rainbow flop of 2-6-9 say. This kind of play though can go horribly wrong and, again, if you get callers then abandon any further ideas of bluffing.

8. Pre-flop on the button, and everyone else has folded.

With just the blinds to beat it’s always worth a raise no matter WHAT cards you have. Even if both blinds decide to call you still have position and can still win the pot

9. When there is a pair on the board.

With a pair on board, after the flop, especially when the pair is 88 or lower, a bet here can have the effect of clearing the table. Chances are that anyone holding one of the cards that got paired folded it so it’s always a good play to take a stab at the pot at this point. If you DO get players calling you then take a look around the table and see who’s looking a bit miffed. It’s much easier to give away the fact that you HAD a card than if you HAVE it.

Keep in mind that these are pretty common reasons to bluff. Many players know these reasons. Most of the time it just won’t work! The main thing is always to know your players and to not do it so often that it never works.

Typical reasons to not bluff…

You should not always be looking to bluff. Bluffing has its place in the game in the same way as betting and raising but is not the be all and end all of the game of Hold’Em. Bear in mind that other players are looking to bluff also. If you can spot individual players who don’t show their cards too often then you can target them by bluffing at their original bluffs but remember…bluffing only works when you can get away with it so you must use it sparingly.

Here are some times when you outright should not bluff.

1. When players expect you to.

If you’re known as Mr Bluffy then you’ll soon be tagged as a player that never has a hand. Of course occasionally you will but does that make up for all the times that you don’t?

2. When you’ve been caught bluffing recently.

The worst thing you can do is to SHOW a bluff. ‘Oooo look at me and my 7-2 offsuit and the big pot I won!’. Showing bluffs can suddenly make you a big target. Let players forget about the big hand they lost to your bluff. Make sure the next time you win a big pot you show them the BEST hand and not the WORST. Remember you want respect!

3. Against a dangerous flop.

You’re wasting your time bluffing on a flop that contains an Ace as players will hold onto an Ace in their hand more often than any other card. Makes sense doesn’t it! You also don’t want to be bluffing when 3 cards higher than an 8 fall on the flop. Holding a pair of 7’s preflop might look good but you’re really going to be up against it on a flop with 3 over cards. Not a time to bluff!

4. Against lots of players.

Remember…bluffing against more than 2 players is not really a good idea. By bluffing against multiple opponents all you’re doing is giving people free chips and from an odds perspective its never worth it anyway.

5. Against bad players.

Players, new to the game, love to call. It makes them feel great when their pair of 3’s beats your Ace high. Newbies look for any reason at all to stay involved. To them it’s a fun thing to do (play poker) and if there’s a chance they can call at the end of the betting then they will. Great if you’ve got good cards but not so good when you’re attempting to bluff them out of the pot.

6. You just lost a big hand or have lost a series of hands.

It’s never a good idea to attempt a bluff after you’ve just lost a big pot. Other players may well call you as your aura of invincibility may well have been shattered.

7. You limped in, or are in a blind position.

Players in the blinds usually get the bum deal when it comes to card distribution. Its therefore a fruitless exercise attempting to bluff from early position as there’s too much that can go on after you. Accept your situation as hopeless, from a bluffing point of view, unless there is only 1 (max 2) players ahead of you.

When Are They Bluffing?

Ok. We’ve looked at when YOU should and should not bluff now what about how to spot when your opponents are bluffing! Knowing all the reasons why you might bluff is an obvious starting point into know why your opponents are doing what they are doing…right?

1. They are keeping the initiative despite a poor flop.

If they’ve raised from an early position and have then bet on say a flop of 4-5-5 then it’s a fair assumption to make that they are just trying to get the momentum going. You, with your pair of 7’s, are now in a great position to re-raise them. They probably DO have a hand like A-K, A-Q etc but why give them the opportunity to freeroll into the turn card when you can perhaps have them fold the hand? If they do CALL then at least you know you’re probably winning although an Ace, King or Queen on the turn might make you wince a little.

2. Pot Odds are in their favour.

If there have been a number of callers, to a pre-flop raise, and its then all checked on the flop then chances are that someone will make a bet on the turn card. If you’ve a chance to make your hand then it can be still worth calling although in this instance it may be wiser to be the bettor yourself!

3. It’s you and them.

When someone bets at a head-to-head stage its not always because they have a good hand. You obviously can’t call on 7 high but reraising might be a good idea…if you have the nerve!

4. The flop doesn’t have any draws.

Flops like 2-6-9 or J-2-3 are flops that cry out for a bluff bet. If you’re first to act then you should attempt such a bet. Remember its easier to bet than it is to call!

5. They bet on the Flop, checked on the turn.

Position is all important in Hold’Em. Bluffs tend to come from late positions. If an opponent has acted early in raising then bet the flop a further bet on the turn usually means they have a good hand. Remember…it’s easier to fire one bullet than two if you’re the bluffer.

6. They bet and tell you to "save your money".

If they really wanted you to save your money, they wouldn’t have bet. Sometimes players say that just to create the opposite image, so look out. Few are that crafty though, so tell your opponent that he’s bluffing and re-raise.

Need to Know Blocks:

  1. Bluffing ONLY WORKS when you can get away with it.
  2. Bluffing ONLY WORKS when you have the respect of players around you
  3. Bluffing AGAINST 2 OR MORE players is NOT a good idea
  4. Its easier to BET than it is to CALL
  5. Its easier to fire ONE BULLET than TWO if you’re bluffing