Holdem Bluffing

Bluffing is the act of betting on the last round when you are sure that you do not have the best hand or an earlier round when you have little chance of making the best hand. When you bluff, you want that your rival should fold their hand. Generally, you should bluff when you think the size of the pot, compared to the estimated probability that your rival will fold, is big enough to make this play profitable (in long-run expectation). For instance, the pot is $50 and the bet is $10 and you are getting 5-to-1 odds on your bluff. In this situation, if you think your rival will fold more than one time in six, bluffing would be the correct holdem strategy.

Sometimes you should bluff even if the pot odds do not justify it, as this makes it tougher for your rival to read your hands in the long run. (While this is an excellent play against a good player, realize that an expert player will likely be observant enough to understand what you are doing.)

Let's take an example of a good fifth-street bluff. For example, you have only one rival remaining, and you are trying for a straight and a third suited card appears on the board. Against a player who is capable of folding, you may want to try a bluff. Suppose you started with

And the board on fifth street is

Whether you have been betting or calling up till now, you should now consider betting if you are against a player who is competent enough to fold.

The situation arises when you have very little but still may have the best poker hand. Instead of checking, it may be more profitable to bet, just in case your bet makes a rival fold a better hand. Sometimes this play works even more of your advantage when someone holding a worse hand calls. In a multi-way pot, you may achieve both the objectives which the best result among all. For example, you are in an early position against a small number of players. Everyone checks on the flop and on fourth street. The board now pairs on fifth street and you have a small pair or a hand like:

It is unlikely that the fifth street card helped anyone. So if you bet and are called, you still may win the pot. Simultaneously, you may have forced someone else to fold a better hand.

The simple example of a fourth street occurs when you are in a late position and everyone has checked on both the flop and fourth street. Now there is a good chance that a bet will win the pot, regardless of what you have.

Another example of a fourth street occurs when you had bet the flop with either a draw or very little and the high card on board pairs. If you are not raised on the flop there is a good chance to bet again.

A good bluffing chance also arises on the flop in a short-handed pot when no one has shown any strength before the flop. Take one holdem example you are in an early position - maybe you were given a free play in the big blind - and the flop is either an ace high or king high with no flush or straight draws. A bet should steal the pot often enough to make it profitable. This is true, as already stated, you are in a game where most players tend to raise with better hands, containing an ace or a king, and to throw away the other ace and king hands.
Particularly, a flop like

are the best for this kind of bluff. Keep in mind you want to be in an early position and you want the pot to be small.

We would also like to suggest about when you should call a rival who might be bluffing. If all the cards are out and your hand can beat only a bluff, your decision depends on your pot odds and on your judgment relating the chance that your rival are bluffing. If your hand can beat some of the hands he would bet for value as well as his bluffs you certainly need not need as a great a "price" from the pot to make a call a correct play.

Persuading Bluffs

An indication of an expert can be made from the ability to persuade bluffs. The idea is to maneuver your rival into betting a hand that he initially had no intention of betting. These situations occur when you have a good calling hand. As you decide to call, you want to make sure that your rival bets as often as possible those times when you have the best hand.

Generally, these plays are achieved by making what appears to be an otherwise unreasonable check, and they do best when you are against an aggressive player. A good example occurs when you have either AA or KK and raise in a late position before the flop. Now say the flop comes with a medium or small pair. It is checked to you, you bet and an aggressive player calls. On fourth street, it is almost always better to check behind your rival if he checks again. Notice that if he has flopped a set, your check might save you some money. But if he has no pair, you may get him to bluff at the pot on the end. The outcome would be that you have achieved an extra bet, since he likely would not have called your bet on the turn. (Of course you would not like to make this play with a hand like JJ since too many over cards that could beat you might hit on the end.)

Another example is when you have AA or KK and the high card on board pairs on the turn. Against a solid but aggressive player who check called you on the flop, check behind him if he doesn't bet.

Before persuading a bluff, some factors need to be met. First, you should be dealing a small number of rivals particularly only one. Second, you should be against a player who is capable of bluffing but also capable of folding if you bet. This is why you want your rival to be tough but aggressive kind. Also importantly, the situation must be such that giving a free card to your rival is not so dangerous if his hand is worse as compared to yours.
Let's take the example of such kind of play. Suppose you hold

And raise from a late position. You are re-raised by a player in the big blind and the flop comes

Your rival bets and you call. A blank hits on fourth street and your rival checks. You should check with the purpose of calling or betting on the river. Notice that if your rival has a better hand than you have, you should prevent check-raising. However, if your rival cannot beat an ace, there is a good chance that he will either bet or call on the river when he would have folded on fourth street if you had bet your hand.

A third example is fairly different because it requires a multi-way pot. Suppose you are in a late position, against many rivals. A fourth suited card hits on the turn, you have the king of that suit making you a flush and everyone has checked to you. Checking would be the correct play for you. If you bet, you may not get any calls, plus if the ace of the suitable suit is in one of your rival's hands, you save money. However, by checking you may persuade a bluff, and if you don't persuade your bluff, someone who would have called on the turn may now call on the river.

For example, in a multi-way pot, you hold

And you are on the button. The flop comes

And the turn comes

If in this situation no one bets then consider checking. (If someone bets on fifth street, you should just call.) If it is checked to you on fifth street, always bet; and if you now checked-raised, always call unless you are sure your rival wouldn't raise without the nuts. Keep in mind your check on fourth street may persuade someone to take a shot at you when you bet on the river.

Here again, for more discussion on both bluffing and persuading bluffing, you can refer to The Theory of Poker.

Folding When the Pot is Large

There are situations where it is not possible for your rival to be bluffing. Therefore, even though the pot may be large, it is often correct to throw away your hand.
For example if the pot is multi-handed and you get a free play in the big blind. You have

And the flop comes

Your check, thinking to check-raise, but no one bets. The card on the turn is

Again you check, thinking to check-raise. And here one player bets out, another calls and you check-raise restricting the pot to just the three of you. Another queen hits on fifth street. Even though the pot is large, the correct play now is to check and fold, as at least one of your rivals will almost always have you beaten - possibly by three queens.

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