How To Bluff In Texas Holdem

If You Never Bluff In Texas Holdem, Your Opponents Will Know That You Have A Good Hand When You Raise

bluffing in texas holdemBluffing is essential to a balanced Texas Holdem strategy. You have to bluff sometimes, to cover up for all the times you will be raising because you have a good hand. Yet if you bluff too often, or in the wrong situations, you will find yourself getting ‘picked off’. Many players deliberately try to induce bluffs from their opponent, turning hands which would have been difficult to bet for value into profitable ‘bluff-catchers’.

This page covers bluffing from several different angles – filling in all the parts of the puzzle ready for you to go and hit the tables. Remember that you need to seek out the softest games, experienced opponents will have seen this all before.

First you will find a basic overview of the types of bluff (skip this if you already know!). After that some of the situational factors which go into making your decision on whether to bluff or not.

Bluffing In Texas Holdem Poker – The Different Kind Of Bluffs

Most new players think of only one kind of bluff – the huge bet with no hand and only a miracle to save you if you get called. This calls for a ‘poker face’ and nerves of steel to pull off – and wins you a mountain of chips when successful.

Try this in today’s poker games and you will very quickly go broke, however good your poker face is. Poker has moved way beyond this, people assign hand-ranges, look at past behavior, look to ensure that the sequence of events tells a congruent story, and then do some quick math. You’ll win pots with the ‘Hail Mary Bluff’ once in a while, but nobody gets away with this for long.

What good players do nowadays is to ‘Semi-Bluff’. This means that they bluff with a backup plan. For example, you flop a straight draw (8 outs) and re-raise all-in over your opponent. If he folds, that is just fine, the mid-sized pot is good enough. If you do get called, then you have 8 outs twice (turn + river) to make your hand, and will win a big pot some of the time.

The best thing about Semi-Bluffing is that this move can be profitable even though the individual elements might not have been. In the above example you would not make your straight enough times to justify calling the bet. Your read on your opponent suggests he only folds occasionally, not enough to make the bluff profitable on its own either. Yet together, these two elements mean you would make a profit each time you make this move.

Semi-Bluffing can be done with thinner draws, or pair-draw combinations, or even with overcards to the deck. If you have a reason to suspect that your opponent is ‘raising light’ then the bluff part might be successful a lot more of the time – meaning you need less ‘back-up’ for those times you are called.

Chips remaining in your stack after your bluff are also a powerful weapon. If you convince your opponent that the rest of your chips are likely to go in on the turn, they are often reluctant to call a flop bet. Remember that the ‘treat of future bets’ only works for experienced players, novices will see $50 to call, and think no further. Of course, you might have no intention of betting more, in which case your small bet on the flop might look stronger than it really is.

Continuation Betting

A very common form of bluff is known as the continuation bet. If you took the lead in the betting with a raise before the flop, then it is natural to continue with the aggression after the flop. This takes advantage of the fact that most flops will miss most hands. Your bet will succeed on its own enough times to be profitable, and will act as a disguise for those times you do have a strong hand too.

One final form of bluffing is to make a very small bet in proportion to the pot on the river. This is designed to look like a bet that wants to be called. You appear like you want to extract a little more value from your opponent, hoping that they will spot what you are up to and fold their hand. Once again, do not try this against novices, who will have no idea what your bet means!

Texas Holdem Bluffing Guide – The Right Situation To Bluff

What new players get wrong is the situation for bluffing. This includes the player(s) involved in the hand, the chipstack sizes (and pot size) and the texture of the flop. I have coached players on these spots and seen ‘facepalm’ moments before – sudden realizations that those big bluffs were doomed to fail! I’ll go through them one at a time, though of course combinations of these factors are even more important.

Players In The Hand: Whenever possible, you want to be bluffing just one opponent. Two is sometimes ok, depending on who they are and the other factors. If you are regularly bluffing against 3 or more opponents then you are simply spewing chips. Even if they are all likely to fold, the combined chances of your bluff getting through diminish to the point of negative returns super-fast.

never bluff donkeysThe tendencies of individual players should also be accounted for. Some players never fold, ever. Known as ‘calling stations’, this is an easy type of opponent to profit from, you just need to profit by extracting value those times you have a hand… not by bluffing. Other players are ‘fit or fold’ on the flop and will give up when they miss, a small continuation bet is ideal here. Still others are tricky, calling your flop bet with nothing to see what you do on the turn. Note these players and fire that second barrel, this (common) move is known as floating. It is over-used and gets a lot of bad players who think they are tricky into trouble!

Stack Sizes: This is very important, if you offer good odds to your opponents, they will call even if they think you have a real hand the majority of the time. If the pot contains 1000 chips, and you bet 1000 more (all-in), then you are offering odds of 2-to-1 to your opponent. This means his break-even point is to win 33% of the time. If he thinks you have a great hand half the time, and air the other half (and he is right, just for the sake of the example) then he can profitably call… in fact he can profitably call a lot more than that.

In poker the stack you need to take notice of is the smallest stack in the hand, this is known as the ‘effective chip stack’, since this is the max which can be won or lost, it is the one you use for calculations. In 3-way pots things get more complicated, since you can potentially build a side pot.

Remember, a big bet with more chips to follow is often far more scary than a simple all-in, the ‘treat of future bets’ will concern those players experienced enough to take this into consideration.

The Texture Of The Flop: This is a way of saying that some flops are better for bluffing than others. At the basic level, flops with high cards which are close in rank and suited are bad for bluffing. This kind of flop has a lot of potential flush and straight draws, and the high cards are likely to have hit someone’s hand. The opposite is a ‘dry’ flop, with unsuited, unconnected low cards, with maybe just one high card. This is less likely to have hit someone’s hand and is great for bluffing on.

Things do get more complicated (as with everything in poker). Since tricky players know that dry flops are great for bluffs and will play back with a re-raise bluff of their own. Now we get into ‘I think, he thinks that I think’ logic – a subject for another day!

An ace on the flop is usually good for bluffing against a single opponent, if they do not have one they will often give up right away. If you meet resistance, you are normally done with the hand.

There are more factors here of course. Your position in the betting (always better to be last!), table image and style, the situation of the game for tournaments and imminent increases in blinds and antes will all factor in.

For me the most important factor is how well your bets tell a story.

How well does this flop match your likely raising range? Does it make sense that you fired again on the turn after a blank card fell (or a flush became possible)? Do you slowplay monster hands, in which case why did you bet the flop?

Again, you’ll start seeing this kind of ‘story’ emerging as you gain experience, for now the type of situations to bluff will give you a big advantage over novice opponents.

If you are smart enough to know when and where to bluff, make sure you are playing in the softest Holdem games to take maximum advantage of you skills, this article outlines the softest sites in 2015!

More Texas Holdem Strategy Articles To Help You Win!

- How To Play Small Pairs In Texas Holdem

- Expectation: A Key Poker Concept

- When To Move Up Levels In Holdem Games