One of the key elements to bluffing is knowing when to do it. If a bluff is well timed, it will mean more to your stack and it’s more likely to succeed.
Bluffing based on your image of “predictability”
There are two polar-opposite philosophies about how opposing players should view you as a player at the card table. One is to have people think of you as an unknown-and-hard-to-classify player; the other is to be thought of as being very predictable. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Playing the part of the wild man
The advantage of being an unpredictable player at a table is that no one is sure what you have and what it means. Is he bluffing? Is he just over-betting? Does he have something but wants us to think he’s bluffing?
There is certainly a kind of satisfaction in being thought of as the loose cannon at the Poker table that can be had in few other ways (aside from doing something like standing up in the middle of a restaurant and starting to sing). The problem, however, is it will cause people to just stick closer to their pure game.
From a pure bluffing point of view, you’re better off conveying a sense of predictability.
Playing the role of the predictable player
If you have a very predictable presence at the table — meaning players are always fairly certain they think they know what you have — a bluff is much easier to pull off.
To illustrate: If the only hands you’ve ever shown are very strong opening hands, people will start making predictions on what your hand is, based on the boards that they’re seeing. Say a flop were to show a rainbow Q-J-10, someone bet in an early position, and you raised from a middle position, you’d probably get players spinning into this type of thinking: “Let’s see, she called pre-flop and now I’m looking at that board… . She’s been playing only tight hands and very conservatively… . She’s got something like a Broadway straight or trip Queens.” Even though
you may only have 7-7 for a pair lower than the board.
In fact, if someone does raise here, you’re almost certainly behind and you need to see a 7 on the turn. Continuing to bet the hand to anyone calling the flop-raise on the turn and the river is probably suicidal because if he’s good enough to call you early on, he’ll be good enough to check-call you throughout the entirety of the hand.
Looking at your hand from the outside
When you bluff, try to get inside your opponent’s head, or at least take an objective view of the board. This can be harder than it sounds because everyone has a natural bias toward his own play — people tend to think of themselves as better players than they actually are and their opponents as worse than they actually are.
Boards that hint at the dangerous cards a player could be holding make the best bluffing opportunities. Here are some examples of “more bluffable” boards:
Flush draws: A board with four clubs looks ominous. (More so if you don’t actually hold any clubs in your hand, eh?) If you’re up against only one other opponent, the chances are he doesn’t have a club either. (If you’re up against two opponents, odds are that one of them does.) You may want to take advantage of it.
Straight draws: Any board showing a straight draw can be scary. Something like 6-7-8-9 is even scarier if people see you betting from a later position. If they know Poker theory (or at least have been paying attention), they’ll assume that you had a lower-quality hand and are overlapping the cards they are seeing.
Hidden trips: Boards like 2-4-7 only get heavily bet one of two ways: Either someone has a big over pair, like pocket Kings, or someone has hit trips on the board. This bluff is harder to pull off against beginning players than it is against intermediates.
Overt trips: A-A-2 is the type of board that’s just screaming for someone to have tripped up (especially because people love to tag along into the game with aces). Yet, half the aces in the deck are gone, so acting as though you have one can potentially be a safer bet than it first appears.
You can never bluff a person who already has the best hand, or worse, holds the hand you’re acting like you have. And you will run across these players sooner or later. Accept that as a risk, understand it will happen, and move on with your plans.
Bluffing in the right game
Some games are easier to bluff than others. In general Limit tends to be a much more difficult game to bluff. It’s certainly not impossible, but the amount that a person can bet at any one time (and, therefore, lose at any one time) is limited. Typically, bluffing in Limit works best either in games with extremely advanced players or in games with beginners who don’t fall into the “I never fold” category.
No-Limit is a much easier game to bluff because the stakes are higher, so the penalty of a bad call is more crushing. Obviously, it makes the bluffing risk that much higher, but that is both the beauty and horror of No-Limit.