Who to Bluff

Bluffing isn’t something you do in a vacuum; you need to have a target. And the bigger and rounder you can paint that target, the easier it is to hit.

Preying on weak personalities

If the concept of picking on people when they’re down just generally turns your stomach, Poker may be a bad game for you. If you’re not willing to just keep beating on an opponent — even when he’s down — you better believe that that opponent is more than willing to come back and pound more than a little on you after he gets some footing.


Nearly all your successful bluffs will happen in the area we call “the middle ground.” You can think of hands as being divided into three large categories:

Good hands
Bad hands In-between hands

When your opponent has a good hand, for the most part you’re not going to be able to bluff her unless she thinks you have a great hand. So bluffing against a good hand is either rare, impractical, or foolish.

When your opponent has a bad hand, all you’re really going to do is make her fold faster. Although it’s true that semi-bluffs (discussed later in this chapter) work against these hands, for the most part if you’re even a little aggressive in your play, you’ll win these.

The in-between hands, however, are the middle ground where it all happens. You want to be aware of, and probing for, the hands that your opponent has that she just isn’t that committed to. Those are the hands you can bluff against no matter what you have, because, quite simply, your opponent would rather let them go than fight with ’em.

Think about how you feel about an in-between hand. Now fight that insecurity in your opponent.

Knowing weakness when you see it

Bluffing will always work the best on opponents who are willing to drop a hand or those who can somehow be convinced that it’s just easier to let this hand go for now and fight for a better one later.

The thing you want to look for in opponents are those who only play with the absolute best of hands, or better still, those who only call raises when they feel that they have something very close to the best hand possible on the table. These are the people you need to turn your bluffing attention to because they will fold more than they should.

Playing against those who show no weakness

You’ll run across people (especially early in your Poker career) who simply refuse to fold a hand. The underlying theory is that they figure you’re a pathological liar and try to bluff every hand. (Actually, it’s more likely that they just don’t want to be embarrassed by having been bluffed.)

If you run across these overly macho types, your best bet is to not bluff at all (it’s not going to work because they won’t fold) and instead only play hands of the highest quality. Unless you run into that awkward situation where your good hand is beaten by their great hand, you’ll actually win money more quickly off these folks than you do off the ones you bluff.

Taking advantage of other situations

Bluffing may work to your advantage for other reasons. Those reasons run the gamut, but here are a few:

Some people, whether they win or lose, will set a definite limit of how far down they’ll allow their chip stack to fall. If you run across people with this proclivity, you can nearly always bluff them when they’re getting close to whatever line they draw because they don’t want to cross a mental boundary.

It’s easier to bluff people who are preoccupied. If your opponent is taking a phone call from a nagging boyfriend (my editor made me change the gender), playing at another table simultaneously online, watching the grill at your Poker game, or getting paged for dinner in the casino restaurant, it’s much easier to convince her to let go of a hand with a big bet or raise.

Chip leaders in tournaments can bully the smaller stacks. This is especially true when you get near the bubble that determines who will end up in the money and who won’t.

Bluffing is cheaper on the hole cards and flop than it is in on the turn and river. It’s essentially half-price to bluff early on and may gain you an early pot win a free card.

Bluffing is easier with fewer players. As a rule, you want to be up against, at most, two other players when you bluff — and being up against only one other player is a considerably more favorable situation for you. Remember: When you’re bluffing, you’re trying to get people with intermediate hands to drop — if you try to push enough of them at one time, one of them will not be pushed.

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