Poker Life: The Art of Bluffing
One of the most misunderstood concepts in poker is the bluff, and movies and TV are probably to blame for it. It makes for such good TV when a player makes a big bluff and gets someone to fold a better hand.
In reality all good players bluff and it is not such a big deal. It is just part of the game and the reason that players bluff is not limited to winning that pot. It is also about making other players pay him off when he actually has a hand. In Dan Harrington’s excellent books on tournament strategy he always assumes that the chance of the other player is bluffing is 10%.
Look at an extreme example like Tom Dwan. He does not need a set over set situation to win a big pot. He will lure other players into huge pots with quite weak hands because the others know he is bluffing so often. In other words he is forcing the other players to adapt to his style and by doing that he is trying to get them out of their comfort zone.
On the other end of the scale is the player who never bluffs. Players will adapt to his style too and never get involved in a big pot with him unless they have a very good hand themselves. That player will need a lot of luck to win against good players, and long-term he has no chance.
If you play against really weak players they may never adapt though. A friend of mine always complains about how other players do not notice how tight he plays and when he makes an occasional bluff they call him down anyway. I always tell him it is his mistake—in those environments you should not bluff at all. “Never bluff a calling station”, as they say.
How about when you play one of those fast fold poker games, e.g. Zoom Poker on Pokerstars? Then you are playing against a new set of players each hand and creating a table image becomes almost irrelevant. I say almost because you will run into the same players more than once during a session and some of them might be paying attention. Playing Zoom I think you should still bluff occasionally, when the situation is right, but not nearly as often.
When I play in major live tournaments I have a little trick to force myself to bluff in situations that are not obvious bluff situations. When I have folded for at least one orbit I will pick a “random” hand and tell myself that I will play my next hand as aces regardless of what I am dealt. I might look down on 10-4 offsuit but I will play the hand like I would play A-A.
Looking back this has been a profitable play for me, and it is also a good exercise to learn that the value of your hand is not as important as you think. It is what the others think you have that is important.