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The Basics of Bluffing in Poker

Bluffing is an integral part of a well balanced poker strategy but it is also one of the most widely misused tools in the poker arsenal.  All too often I see poker players throw random bluffs out there without having a plan or concrete reason.  They suddenly decide they want to pull a bluff to see if they can or they bluff because the hand didn't play out as expected.  Bluffs should be planned and executed methodically, not randomly.

If you play in low and medium stake games where the player pool is huge, you really don't need to bluff often at all.  In fact, low stakes players should only attempt bluffs against players they see at the tables on a regular basis.  It sounds nitty but there really is no logical reason to bluff against low stakes players you'll never see again.  Straightforward poker is the key in loose games.

But still, you'll occasionally run into good bluffing opportunities so here are the three keys to a successful bluffing strategy:

Choose Your Targets

First of all, you need to choose your targets wisely.  Most bluffs go unnoticed in loose, small stakes games because the opposition is generally unsophisticated.  Bluffs are wasted on players like that because they simply don't pay attention to the finer points of the game.  They're more worried about their own cards and what you're doing rather than why you're doing what you're doing.

That's why you should never bluff the fish.  Fish don't like to fold so your bluffs will have a low success rate.  On top of that your bluffs that do succeed won't accomplish anything because the fish have a hard enough time reading the board let alone worrying about how often you bluff.  They'll pay off your good hands even if you never bluff.  Don't waste your chips bluffing the fish.

Have a Reason

If you don't have a good reason for attempting a bluff, don't attempt it.  The ultimate purpose of bluffing is to keep yourself from becoming too predictable.  When you throw those big bets out there, you want your opponents to wonder if you really have it this time or are just BSing them again.  But having a reason goes beyond that.  You need to have a reason that's specific to each situation.

Sometimes a good reason to bluff is because the hand you were going after never materialized.  If you semi-bluffed a straight draw on the flop and turn but it doesn’t come on the river, you might want to bluff.  Sometimes you bluff because you sense weakness in your opponent but you don't have anything worth showing down either.  That second example is an even better time to bluff.

Tell a Believable Story

The biggest mistake I see in bluffing is people suddenly deciding to pull bluffs without questioning how believable the bluffs will be.  For example, if you chase a flush draw by checking and calling on the flop and turn, a big bet on a blank river is going to look mighty suspicious.  Your actions leading up to the bluff and the cards on the board need to align to tell a believable story.

Now let's say instead you raise preflop in late position with some kind of trashy hand like 45s and the flop brings three cards like 26J.  You throw out a continuation bet but your opponent calls, figuring you don't have much.  Let's say the turn brings another junk card - another deuce.  Your opponent checks and you check behind, ready to give up on the hand.  But suddenly a beautiful ace comes on the river and your opponent checks to you again.  Now you can bluff!

That ace is a great card to bluff on because you raised preflop.  Your opponent could easily have put you on a couple of high cards that missed the low board in the beginning.  But when that ace shows up and you throw out a bet all of a sudden, he's going to have a much harder time making that call.

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