What makes poker different from other cards games is the bluff. A bluff is a form of trickery used to confuse opponents as to the true strength of your hand. Solid No-Limit Texas Hold’em players have learned how to bluff from all their experience in poker games. These players realize that it is not necessary to have a strong hand in order to win.
For the Love of the Bluff
Many No-Limit Hold’em players love playing the game because bluffing keeps the game exciting and unpredictable. Many beginner poker players have a hard time bluffing because they do not have enough confidence. As beginners gain more confidence and get a few successful bluffs under their belt, they may gain too much confidence and begin to bluff in the wrong situations. An important rule to follow is to only bluff if you have a decent reason to. Also, do not get discouraged if your bluff does not succeed in a hand as you may be able to use that bluff to your advantage in the following hands.
More about Bluffing
The bluff is primarily used to attempt to take a pot that could not otherwise have been won. Let’s take an example where your opponent raises pre-flop and you choose to call while holding a hand of 8 of Hearts/7 of Hearts. The flop arrives with a K of Spades/6 of Clubs/9 of Hearts and you choose to call the bet of your opponent in an attempt to hit a straight. Next, the Turn comes with a J of Hearts which gives you a heart flush. Then, your opponent chooses to check, you bet and then your opponent chooses to call. Next the River comes with a 2 of Clubs and you don’t fill your draws. However, your opponent may be concerned that you’ve hit a straight so your opponent chooses to check you. Checking at this point would make it almost impossible for you to win the pot with your poor hand. In this situation you might decide to bluff.
So what do you do?
Let’s assume that you choose to bluff so you bet and your opponent chooses to call with a pair of 10s. Your opponent then wins the pot. You are probably disappointed that you did not win but you can still use the fact that you bluffed to your advantage in the next few hands. Your opponents know that you are capable of bluffing so they may want to call on the River when you do have a good hand. The bluff can be a strategic asset that can help you win hands that you could not win without bluffing, along with creating doubt in your opponents’ minds. When your opponents have doubt, it will be easier for you to win larger pots with stronger hands.
Creating Pressure with the Bluff
The bluff can create pressure on your opponents since they have knowledge of your previous bluff. They will re-think their moves because they know you can bluff and resist folding or calling with a poor hand. Also, if your bluff works, players may begin to “tilt” or play poorly. This can set you up for the win and the pot.
Use the Bluff Wisely
It is not advised to bluff in every situation. For instance, say your opponent raises pre-flop and then chooses to check the River. This is a sign of weakness from your opponent and a bluff will work better in this situation. In addition, it is more advantageous to bluff against a single player rather than a group of players as it is easier to cause a single player to fold rather than a group. Remember that your bluffing has to be consistent with the rest of your decisions made during the game. When your decisions are consistent throughout the game, your opponents will not be suspicious of your bluffs. Take the example of your unsuccessful bluff; your opponents know that you bluffed with a poor hand so they will believe that you will bet when you actually do have a good hand. This may well work against them.
Many novice players will attempt to bluff the River (5th Street) when they know they can’t win otherwise. As an example, say player 1 raises pre-flop with a King/Queen and player 2 chooses to call then check on the flop and the Turn (4th Street) comes with a 10/8/Ace/8. The River is up next with a 4 and the board is now 4/8/Ace/10/8 and player 1 chooses to bet. Now, player 2 who has two 5s, is wondering why player 1 did not bet on the flop but instead bet on the River. Since player 1’s bluff was not consistent with his or her previous decisions it probably will not work. An inconsistent bluff will raise the suspicion of your opponents and they may call your bluff. And that’s how to use the bluff to your advantage in Texas Hold’em Poker.