Profitable bluffing in the right situations

A well-timed bluff is one of the most effective weapons in the arsenal of any poker player. But before you start bluffing wildly, here are a few things you should consider.

The efficiency of any bluff very much depends on the frequency you are bluffing with. If you are constantly trying to bluff, you cannot be too surprised if you get called eventually. On the other hand, more frequent bluffing can lead to players paying you off with your strong hands. It’s all about balancing your bluffs and value bets, and thus mixing up your game so that your opponents have a hard time telling whether you are bluffing or not.

For every bluff, a consistent, coherent story is crucial. A good bluff always tries to represent a certain hand. You must therefore play the whole hand as if you had that hand.

Example 1: The flop comes with AsAc3d, the opponent bets, and you call. The turn comes Tc, the opponent bets, and you raise and pretend to have the ace.

Example 2: You have AhKh, the flop comes QdJs8d. The opponent bets and you call. The turn is 3c, the opponent bets and you call. The river brings 9d, the opponent checks and you bet 50% of the pot.

Here, you played the hand as if you had a draw (straight or flush draw), and since the river may have completed both draws, your opponent would have to assume that he is beat, and fold to your bluff.

Bet size when bluffing

It is advisable to use the same bet sizing for a value bet and a bluff bet, in order to deny the opponent any information. If you were to always bet 50% of the pot when value betting, but 80% of the pot when bluffing, that would be a dead giveaway to any thinking player! On the other hand, making an oversized bet with a strong hand can often look like a bluff and cause your opponent to call you down with a weaker hand.

Preflop Bluffs

Bluffing not only works on the flop, turn, or river but also before the flop. Here, too, your own table image is important, and you should watch the table for a while before performing such action.

First of all, it is important to know who has been raising often – it can be assumed that this player raises with a wide “range” of hands at least from the middle or later position, meaning he would raise with hands such as QT offsuit. You can then confront that player with a 3-bet, to make him fold that hand right there. It is important to be in position for such a stealing 3-bet, because of the risk that another player behind you might wake up with a “real hand”. The best positions for a 3-bet bluff are the button, the cutoff, and the big blind.

Bet sizing is important here: Make your bluff raise at least 3-4 times the original bet. Bet higher when out of position, lower when in position. It is important not to give your opponent good odds to call your bluff.

In a situation like this, your own hand is of lesser or no importance, since most of the time there will be no showdown. Bear in mind that your preflop 3-bet bluff needs to work only a certain percentage of the time to be profitable. Also, even if you get called, even the worst hands still have at least a 20% chance of winning.

If the player calls your 3-Bet, you should bet the flop as well, especially if it is uncoordinated (no draws) or only contains small cards. Unpaired hands miss the flop 70% of the time, and usually, the opponent will give the preflop 3-bettor a strong hand because of his aggressive play before and after the flop.

If your flop bet gets called, you should be careful – your opponent is likely to have at least a medium to strong hand, which he may not be willing to fold. He might also be drawing, so watch out for future cards. If they do not complete any draws, consider bluffing the river as well.