There is probably no skill more over covered, over attempted, and over glorified than the bluff. Does this make bluffing overrated? Well yes and no. There’s bluffing, semi-bluffing, and bluffs made on read versus bluffs made on pot odds, one of the best secrets of pro players is how many varieties of bluffing there are, and how each is appropriate in its given place. Many even moderately good players don’t understand this, and inevitably get caught with their pants down.
Entire books can, and have been, written specifically on just the skill of bluffing in poker. Even so, the first thing a good bluffer and a good poker player realizes is that bluffing is a minor skill and should not be used often. Aggressive play, knowing odds, pot odds, implied odds, value bets, and blinds stealing are all far more important than bluffing, though there is not denying that the perfect bluff or two can be the difference between twenty places out of the money and the final table.
Here is an overview of some of the major types of common bluffs:
- Stealing Blinds. This is a common practice that works better in tournaments than table games, and at conservative tables over aggressive tables. If you’re on the dealer button (or even one or two spaces back) and everyone folds, you should bet three times the big blind to see if you can get everyone to fold.
- Continuation Bet. This is one of my favorites. You raise pre-flop. You may or may not have anything, but the other person only calls, and you miss the flop completely, but you IMMEDIATELY raise a respectable amount. This is one of the most valuable bluffs, because it works A LOT, and if the other person re-raises, you can fold without too much investment.
- A ‘Read Bluff.’ Usually this comes after the other person bets. With me, this almost always involves having an ace on the board. The other player bets weak, but I know he/she would have raise pre-flop with an ace, because they always do. So I raise strong enough to make sure my bet is twice the pot. I nickname this the ‘I know you don’t have the ace and can’t call this bet.’ It requires the good read.
- A Sissy Table. It rarely happens, but once in a while you get a table that folds like the French Army to the Germans when you bet. If you have a table full of mice you should raise, raise, and raise some more. This is seeing the table you’re at.
The biggest thing to know about bluffing is that it should be situational. Blind bluffs, especially if they are all in, are almost always a bad idea. Knowing the pot odds, the implied odds, and your opponent’s betting tendencies all drastically increase the chance of a successful bluff. Also, keep track of how the table views you. Do you look conservative or wild? It doesn’t matter if you got A-A, A-A, K-K, A-K, and Q-Q all in a row (best run of my life) if you never show them down, then the ticked off players at your table will hammer you later, because if you don’t show, they don’t know. Practicing bluffing is a good idea, but remember, it’s a low level skill. Keep it locked in the box until the right time and you, and your bank roll, will be a lot happier.