The Art of Bluffing in Poker [A 2022 Extensive Guide]
Bluffing is perhaps the most mystical and fascinating aspect of poker, especially No-Limit Holdem. For someone who hasn’t ever played poker, this card game might seem to be all about bluffing and having a tough poker face to read. Bluffing successfully and showing the worse hand to your opponent can be extremely rewarding. Yet very few poker players have their bluffing frequencies figured out the right way.
Bluffing in poker can be defined as betting or raising to make your opponent fold a hand incorrectly. Let’s say that you’re holding AQo in the Small Blind, and decide to 3-bet against the Button who was the original raiser. In case you face a 4-bet and go for a 5-bet here, you would prefer your opponent to fold a hand like TT that is an equity favorite over your hand. If he could see your cards, he has a clear call – but since he can’t, he might make an incorrect fold against you.
While bluffing might not be the most important weapon in a winning player’s arsenal of plays, it still plays an important part in our overall strategy. How can we acquire this valuable skill then?
We asked the Pro Team members of Beasts of Poker for their best advice on how you should approach bluffing in poker. In this post, we will examine how to implement bluffing into your poker game, with the ultimate goal of helping you win more money at your stakes. Let’s get started:
The War of Equities
In poker, every hand starts from players competing for the blinds. In order to win the blinds, players are making bets and raises for two reasons. They are A) Building a bigger pot in case they win and B) preventing their opponents from realizing their equity. Therefore poker is often called a war of equities, where two or more hands clash into each other.
Bluffing comes into the picture when you’re trying to prevent your opponent from realizing their equity with a hand that your opponent would continue against if he saw your cards. A typical example of this would be double barreling with a low flush draw or a gutshot to get your opponent off from their weak high or one pair hands. These spots come around often, and failing to be aggressive with your equity can significantly decrease your win rate.
The first player to invent small ball poker which takes advantage of frequent bluffs in small to medium pots was Daniel Negreanu. Picking up small pots compounds over time. In small ball poker, you bet frequently to pick up pots that no one else is interested to win. C-betting and probe bets from the blinds in a limped pot are examples of bets that would be classified as small ball poker.
However, the best players are also ready to execute big multi-street bluffs when the right situation arises. This is where many players can go wrong, as they are either scared to pull the trigger or not competent enough to accurately estimate how likely the bluff will be successful.
In the next chapters, we’ll dive deeper into the anatomy of a well-planned bluff.
Position Matters More than You Think
In poker, any extra information can help you to win the maximum from your opponents. By having a position you can put more pressure on your opponents through bluffing, as they are forced to act first during the hand. Your opponent can’t control the size of the pot being OOP (out of position), and he can’t know for sure how many more streets he has to call against you. It’s the threat of that big river all-in bet that makes many bluffs successful on the flop or the turn – even more so when your opponent is left guessing when out of position.
Many players can call down about a third of their stack with one pair hands, but very few players are willing to do that if there’s a threat of an even bigger bet later in the hand. Therefore having money left for later betting rounds is crucial for making your opponents fold. Great NLHE players give their opponents multiple chances to fold their equity while making sure to realize their own equity. Let’s analyze a hand where these concepts are put into practice:
You’re playing $2/4 against unknown opponents, and open your button to $10 holding A♣4♣. You get 3-bet to $44 by the SB. You choose to go for a 4-bet to $96. If your opponent calls, you can make a 1/4-1/3 pot c-bet on many flops that are advantageous for the 4-bettor and/or present a backdoor draw for your hand. You can keep barreling on good turn cards, and even if you don’t make a hand with showdown value like a pair of aces, there’s always the threat of a river all-in bet that might make your opponent fold a hand like pocket nines before the river.
If you don’t have a position, making big bluffs is way riskier. Our advice is to choose those situations very carefully, and you usually need a strong draw to do that. This way you have a decent amount of outs in case you’re called.
Size Up on the Turn
If you’ve been playing around with solvers, you’ve probably noticed that solvers prefer to make big bets on the turn with both value hands and bluffs. Sometimes betting 1.5 or twice the pot on the turn is way more effective than betting your standard ¾ pot sizing. Usually, this is the case where you have a clear range advantage, which gives you permission to stay aggressive with your bluffs.
An example of a situation that calls for a big turn bet is after c-betting a dry flop with a backdoor flush draw and your opponent checking again on a turn that gives you a 4-card flush. You’re giving yourself a good chance to win the pot outright and outdraw your opponent if he sticks around.
If you’re playing against villains who are short-stacked, the turn is usually the street where you end up either giving up or going all-in with your bluffs. Just make sure that you have big enough stacks left to make this play, as you don’t want to get hero-called just because the all-in bet was too small. By giving your opponents good odds they might be inclined to call you down with weak hands. A good rule of thumb here is to have at least 2/3 pot left for the last all-in bet – otherwise, you should consider just giving up on the bluff.
Advice from Beasts Of Poker Pro Team
There are certain factors that have a big impact on whether you should go for a bluff in 6-max Holdem. The first things you need to consider include how your own range does against your opponent’s range, who has the initiative in the pot and what are the positions. You should never ignore these factors when considering bluffing opportunities!
Let’s say you open your BTN and get called by the BB. On a rainbow flop of AK3 the board texture heavily favours the preflop aggressor i.e. the BTN. We can tune up our aggression already on the flop and bluff with many hand combos here, as the villain is having a hard to time to show up with a strong hand here. An opposite example of this would be the same preflop action on the flop of 764 with two of the same suit. On this flop the BB has all the strong hand combinations in his range, and we need to play cautiously with both our air and value hands already on the flop.
Although being competent in poker theory is important in modern online poker, you should pay a lot of attention to how your opponent plays and how they would react to different situations. In many cases, you can overbluff players who are cautious and merely waiting for a strong hand to play. On the other end of the spectrum, you have sticky players who will not fold easily. Against these players, you need to choose your bluffs carefully on all streets. A great rule of thumb is to bluff more suited hand combos to stay somewhat balanced.
What about blockers in NLHE? While they’re mostly being used in PLO, blockers play a role in 6-max NLHE too. Especially when going for multi-street bluffs, you can increase your fold equity by having a crucial card that reduces strong hand combos that your opponent might call you with. If we take our previous example of the AK3 rainbow flop, the strongest hands BB can have are A3 and pocket threes. Therefore as the BTN, you can bluff with hands like 43s here effectively with big sizings. If the BB calls your flop c-bet and the turn is a T, we should keep barreling with hands like JT and QT. With these hands we block big turned 2 pairs & the nut straight.
Although there are many profitable bluffing situations in 6-max, there’s nothing wrong with playing tight as your standard game plan. However, by pulling the trigger with bluffs that make sense you will increase your edge & win more money in the long run. The best practice I use here is thinking about good combos I would use for bluffing on each street. Once you get the hang of it, you have great prerequisites to play winning 6-max Holdem. Then you will be able to figure out which bluffs to use to balance out our value bets with strong hands!
-pr3ssa, Beasts Of Poker Ambassador & NLHE 6-max pro
Adjust Your Bluffing Frequencies Based on Your Opponents
While it might feel like some players aren’t bluffable at all, there are still opportunities to bluff even calling stations off their mediocre and weak holdings. However, before you launch a multi-street bluff it’s vital to consider the tendencies of your opponents and which part of their range they might call you down with. Lastly, bluffing in multiway pots is less likely to go through – you need a very good reason to do that when multiple players are involved in a pot!
Once you get good at bluffing, Holdem will be a much more fun game to play, especially if you’re playing in passive games with timid players. As long as poker is a card game being played by people, you will spot your opponents over-folding some spots and calling too much in others. Save your bluffs for the first occasion, and feel free to widen your value-bet range in the latter occasion instead. That way bluffing is not only a fun thing to do but also a profitable weapon in your arsenal of plays.
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