Bluffing is an essential part of poker. Many players say that if you are never bluffing while playing poker, then you are doing it wrong and missing out on a crucial part of the game. By avoiding bluffing, you will become too predictable to other players and soon enough you will start losing money. Therefore, it is important to bluff every now and then. Your opponents need to know that you are capable of bluffing and take that into account when going up against you. Of course, there is a “camp” of people that hate bluffing and live by the rule “tight is right”. In other words, they believe that you should only play your strong hands. Even though this approach may work in soft games against amateurs, you will be doomed in a more serious lineup.
Bluffing is a very useful tool. But the fine art of bluffing is a quite difficult skill to master. Even if you think that you are already good at bluffing, there will always be things that you can improve. For this reason, we have decided to compile a list of tips that can help you become a better poker bluffer. Of course, you won’t become a master overnight, as it requires much practice and dedication. However, these tips will certainly help you get better at bluffing and put you on a right track in learning.
1. Don’t Think About the Money
When you are playing poker, it is essential to think about your budget in terms of chips and blinds rather than real-world cash. Of course, it is easier set than done, however, it is a very helpful technique that will make you a better bluffer.
Let’s look at an example. You are in a poker game with $2/$5 stakes. If you want to bet $200, it may seem like a large amount of money at first, however, if we convert it into blinds, then you are betting 40 BB with the potential to win 150 BB pot. This way of thinking simplifies the process of bluffing in many more ways than you think. For instance, you will never be a good bluffer if you associate every bet with real money and what you can buy with that. This line of thinking will make you hesitant and hesitation is the last thing you want when bluffing. You need to show confidence and be determined. If you are unsure or hesitant, then your opponents will suspect that you are bluffing and catch you.
If you notice that your opponent might be hesitant to put a lot of money at stake, then you can use it to your advantage. For example, a player who constantly thinks about real cash will try to avoid large calls. This kind of player is a prime target for bluffing.
2. Tell a Convincing Story
One of the most important things in bluffing is the ability to tell a convincing story to your opponents. Your bets need to make sense. Any poker player that knows what they are doing will be able to tell when the story is not adding up and catch your bluff and you will be in trouble. This skill is arguably the main thing that distinguishes a beginner bluffer from an expert.
Before going for a bluff, think about what you are going to represent. You need to make other players think that you have a certain hand. So think about this hand and when it makes sense to bet with these cards. Let’s look at a specific situation. You open from under the gun and your opponent calls from the big blind, and the flop comes K K A. They check and you respond with a bet. After that, they probably know that you are bluffing and raise you. That is because the story just didn’t make much sense. On such a board, you have a significant range advantage and they have only a few hands that don’t 3-bet before the flop and form a combination with community cards.
Always think about the story you are trying to tell (and whether it makes logical sense) and stick to it until the execution phase of your game. A good example of bluffing is checking on the turn that can complete a flush draw with the purpose of re-raising your opponent’s bet. This kind of action will definitely put your rivals in a tough spot and keep them guessing. Especially, if you follow through with a bet on the river. Unfortunately, even if you tell a perfect story with your bets, some players will still call you, just because they hate folding. However, if you make your bluffs tell a convincing story, then there is no doubt that they will significantly increase your chip count in a long run.
3. Be Aware of Your Body Language
Even though this tip can only be used in live poker, it is pretty important and worth talking about in this guide. There is no denying that it is pretty hard to control your body language, as most of it comes involuntarily. However, being able to control it is a very powerful tool when bluffing.
Tells are a huge part of poker. They are the main giveaways of bluffing. If you have too many tells, then players will be able to read you like an open book. While there is no denying that getting rid of your tells is easy, it is possible. If your hands are shaking and it is hard for you to control your breath, the first thing is to identify that these are your tells. Being aware of your table presence is the first step to learning how to bluff with confidence. Try to figure out if your behavior changes when bluffing. If you do notice these changes, get rid of them, or control them to your advantage.
Bluffing is lying, so you need to know how to control your reactions. One of the most widespread tells is freezing and becoming quiet all of a sudden. This is a dead giveaway of bluffing. You need to try and stay relaxed, or at least seem that way to other players. Keep your movements loose and don’t talk too much, especially if you are a bad liar. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a fixed and good posture. It will eliminate some tells and make you look more confident. You can also try to keep both hands together and close to your mouth. This will also eliminate some recognizable tells and hide your hands shaking. But don’t forget to do the same things even when you are not bluffing. Otherwise, these actions are actually going to bring you more harm than good.
4. Think About Your Table Image
This tip is a little bit connected to the previous one. While playing poker, you should also be aware of how other players perceive you and your actions. You need to create an image of a player who is more than capable of bluffing but can also stay away from all the action if needed. For example, if you pull off several successful bluffs in a row, you need to be aware of what other players think. Your opponents may start suspecting that you bluff all the time, therefore it is better to take a little pause. On the other hand, you can’t always control how the game flows. For example, you might have been getting dead cards and staying away from all the action. This will create an image of rock to other players, which you can use to bluff.
All in all, it is crucial to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. Always try to think about what kind of image you are creating at the table. And when you determine this image, try to adjust your strategy to use it to your advantage. After all, the profitability of your bluffs may depend on it.
5. Learn When to Bluff
Another key tip to bluffing is knowing when to bluff. In certain situations, it is better to avoid this risky move. Ideally, you should bluff when you are playing against an opponent who is likely going to fold or bluff. You need to learn how to pick your battles. Unfortunately, there are no concrete rules when it comes to when to bluff. Especially when we consider how fluid poker is. You can’t have one strategy and always stick to it. You need to learn how to adapt. Most of it comes from playing more and gaining more experience as a result. However, we can outline certain situations. For example, you should not bluff against players who tend to call all the time. You should also avoid bluffing against players who are tilting or when you are tilting yourself. Try to bluff against players with shorter stacks as they have less room for error. However, don’t bluff too much against super-short stacks, as they can be quite desperate.
As you can see, learning when to bluff is pretty complex and there are no definite rules or giveaways. In general, scare cards are the best friends of any good bluffer. For example, over-cards, or cards that complete an obvious draw should give you a good opportunity to pull off a bluff. You are rarely going to be in a situation where everything lines up for you to make a successful bluff. But these tips will definitely help you make an educated guess.
6. Don’t Bluff in Multi-Way Pots
If you look at professional poker games, you will notice that most of the bluffs take place in 1v1 situations or even during heads-up plays. It is quite rare to see a professional poker player trying to bluff his way through two or more opponents. You need to remember that with each new opponent, the probability of your bluff being successful will decrease. More players mean that there is a larger probability that someone has a good hand. One exception is when you see that there is not much interest in the pot, meaning that nobody is betting. But this is also quite risky.
7. Experiment With Bet Sizes
Once again, if you pay attention to professional poker games, you will notice that many good bluffers tend to toy with different bet sizes in order to throw off their opponents. Let’s look at an example for a better understanding. Your opponent is expecting a normal bet of around half the pot. However, you decide to bet an oversized wager of 1.2x of the pot. This will definitely put your rival in unknown territory. They likely had a plan or strategy in mind which they need to change now.
Knowing how much to bet is a crucial part of poker. Your bets can’t look too weak or too constructed to your rivals. For example, you can’t expect people to fold if you only bet 15% of the pot on the river. Anyone with a strong hand will bet or even re-raise you in this situation. Therefore, it is better to stay away from small bets when trying to bluff. They simply don’t offer much value for their risk. You need to stay committed and avoid being scared of large bets. In the worst-case scenario, any observant opponent will catch you bluffing over and over again.
But, once again, poker is a very fluid and unpredictable game. There is always room for experiments and your game style is going to change depending on the lineups. You can toy around with bet sizes against recreational players who are likely to be thrown off their game.
There is no doubt that bluffing in poker is a very risky strategy. However, it is equally satisfying to pull it off. It is common for beginning poker players to think that bluffing should happen often at the poker table. But, as we have discussed in the article above, it is important to be selective about when you bluff.
If you are a beginner at bluffing, you should be really careful with it. Needless to say that poker bluffs look amazing in live tournaments and movies, but when it comes to your own money, it is a completely different story. We recommend that you practice bluffing at lower stakes and slowly build up your confidence and move up. Of course, you won’t always be successful. But, you need to understand that poker is all about long-term progress and profits.
Paradoxically, you don’t want to build a reputation as a good bluffer. The best bluffers are the ones you don’t think about as bluffers. These types of players are the most unpredictable and the hardest to play against. Instead of focussing solely on bluffing, it is better to work on becoming a better poker player in general and gaining more experience. After all, the tips we have discussed in this article will only be perfected with enough time and practice.