Mastering the Psychology of the Bluff in Poker – Poker Bluff Guide

Mastering the Psychology of the Bluff in Poker – Poker Bluff Guide

22/06/2021

Poker is one of the most played games in any land-based or online casino. Bluffing is a big part of the game, and nearly every poker player does it as part of their game plan. Regardless of experience or poker variant, knowing when to bluff and how to do it properly is an essential tool in any poker player's arsenal. Not only does bluffing add to poker an element of excitement and fun, but it is also a strategic tool that helps players win money at the tables.

So why do players bluff? Should you bluff? What are the benefits of poker bluffing? How is bluffing done right? Our poker experts at CasinoSource.co.uk have written this comprehensive guide that answers all these questions and covers everything you need to know for mastering the psychology of poker bluffing.

How To Bluff When Playing Poker

So you may have heard all about the wonderful art of bluffing, and you may have pulled a bluff or two at a friendly poker night. But when there is serious cash and pride on the line, it's a lot harder to implement bluffing into a sound, consistent poker strategy. But do not worry, because bluffing is an art form that can be learnt and perfected in most cases. At the very least, an awareness of the key giveaways can be the difference between bluffing your way to a handy stack win and leaving the table empty-handed.

If you want to take your poker game to the next level, you need to incorporate bluffing into your poker strategy. The key to success with bluffing is to know how to bluff effectively. Pulling a bluff will not guarantee you a winning hand, but it can increase your chances and certainly add excitement to the game.

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Questions To Ask Before Bluffing

Timing is everything when executing a poker bluff. When you weigh up whether to bluff or not, there are some key questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is my opponent showing any signs (tells) that hint at the strength of their hand?
  • Am I using bluffs intelligently, balancing them with playing solid hands?
  • Is my opponent a nit (a tight poker player who calls all bets and only gets involved in big pots with good hands)?
  • Did I correctly size my bets through each street (this makes your poker bluffing look more realistic)?

Poker Bluffing Tips

Poker Bluffing is often associated with aggressive play. It is partially true, as aggressive players tend to be better at bluffing and win more hands. However, even cautious players can bluff in poker. They just need to step out of their comfort zone and find an aggressive side to their game. Bluffing is seen as an aggressive way to play poker because you risk betting on potentially weaker hands than your opponent.

So, does that mean that you should always bluff and be aggressive? Absolutely not, there is an art to poker bluffing, and you can start learning by following these tips:

  1. Learn the Table: If you understand the dynamics of the table you are playing at (types of players, available chip stack, positions, etc.), it is easier to know how much you should bluff during a poker game.
  2. Poker Bluffing on Stakes: If stakes are low, such as during the first betting round, it is not worth bluffing when calls are likely to be made. Similarly, if you are betting a low amount, hold off on bluffing until more cards are dealt.
  3. Count the Players in the Hand: How many players remain 'in' on the hand? In simple terms, the more players there are, the less chance you have to pull a successful bluff. It is easier to bluff fewer players as there is less chance of someone calling your bluff.
  4. Think About How You are Perceived at the Table: How do the other players view you? Have you recently been caught bluffing, or are you known as an aggressive player? Needless to say, if you are known as a poker bluffer, you may want to rethink your poker strategy.
  5. Look for Tells: If you knew what cards your opponent was holding, deciding when to bet or not would be easy. While you cannot get that information, your opponent may display "tells" that hint at the strength of their card.
  6. Improve your Tells: A tell is a movement, facial gesture, or some other action that gives away the strength of your hand to an opponent. If you twitch whenever you have a good hand, good poker players will pick up on it and use it against you. Try to learn how to hide your poker tells. But beware that it is sometimes easier said than done.
  7. Manage Your Bankroll: A poker bluff is all about taking a risk, such as betting on a weaker hand while trying to convince your opponent to fold. While those risks can lead to rewards, they can also lead to losses. Having control over your budget is essential. You must feel comfortable with your bankroll before bluffing on large bets.

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Types Of Poker Bluffs

Quick Bluffs

Most poker bluffs – especially for Hold 'em variants – are known as "quick bluffs" or a "small ball". These are bluffs following a small bet that could lead to a quick win and a small winning pot. The idea here is that you will have a higher success rate and, if not, will only lose small sums from your bankroll. Think of it as lowering the risk of poker bluffing, albeit for small profits.

Semi-Bluffs

Imagine you have a hand that does not have any winning combination following the flop. However, this hand has some potential on the next cards. Following the bets of other players, you decide to raise. Remember, you do not really hold a winning hand but are raising anyway. This type of bluff is known as a "semi-bluff".

It is only a semi-bluff because there is a chance you land a winning hand when the following cards are drawn. You raise in the hope your opponents will fold, and you can win the pot. If they do call you, you still have a chance of winning. You should only be doing this every so often as this type of poker bluff can become transparent quickly.

Stone-Cold (Naked) Bluffs

The most famous poker bluff is probably a "stone-cold bluff” or a “Pure Bluff”. It is essentially poker bluffing on a completely worthless hand. Hollywood movies would have you believe stone-cold bluffs are what poker is all about, depicting players that just randomly bluff on worthless hands, with all players at the table bluffing at the same time.

In reality, stone-cold bluffs are not used frequently because they are extremely risky. Your hand has virtually no chance of winning, so you are relying entirely on your opponent folding. There have been some famous examples of successful stone-cold bluffs in poker competitions, and they can be fun on poker nights with friends, but it's rarely a good idea to play this kind of poker bluff.

How To Spot When A Poker Opponent Is Bluffing

So far, we’ve discussed the best ways to bluff against opponents, but what about knowing when other players are poker bluffing? The best way to know if your opponent is bluffing is to get some understanding of the strength of their hand. Noticing “tells” is the best way to gain knowledge of a concealed hand and can help you decide if an opponent is bluffing.

Of course, the whole point of bluffing is to trick your opponent into thinking you have a better hand than what you do. When playing poker at a physical venue, you can spot "tells" such as body language, posture and eye movements. However, what about when playing online poker? Is it possible to know if your opponent is playing a poker bluff if you cannot see them? The answer is yes. You can spot online bluffing by following these simple tips:

Bet Size

How much your opponent bets is a fantastic way to tell if someone is poker bluffing when playing online poker. Check out these three scenarios, which show common bluffing techniques amongst online players:

  • Your opponent regularly bets around two-thirds of the pot, even on the preflop, and keeps doing so even if their hands are not good. You will have to wait for this to become a pattern, but if the player is frequently betting most of the pot and not winning, they are probably bluffing.
  • If the player bets close to, or on the total, pot size and hits winning hands but then bets lower on other hands, they are likely to be holding a losing hand on that lower bet. The player has shown they will bet high with a good hand. A lower bet shows their hand may not be as good, but they are bluffing in the hope that you fold.
  • The third scenario is a poker bluff using minimum bets. If your opponent bets minimum amounts but remains in the game, this could be showing they are bluffing and holding a weak hand. It is worth noting some players are willing to bet min to “see what happens” on the flop, so be careful about how you read minimum bet situations.

How Quickly Are Bets Made

Many online poker players forget some of the gamesmanship of real-life poker. When they get a great hand in online poker, the excitement gets the better of them, and they will bet instantly without thinking. If done consistently, making quick wagers reveals an important betting habit.

If you see your opponent bets instantly on winning hands but then takes longer to bet on weak hands, you may have spotted a tell. It could indicate the player is less sure about betting on a poor hand, and if they do bet, it is likely a poker bluff.

Overly Aggressive Players Love to Poker Bluff

While bluffing in poker requires you to be aggressive, some players take it too far and become too aggressive at the poker table. When a player becomes overly aggressive, they tend to bluff too much, bluff when they do not need to, and their bluffing often makes no sense:

  • Playing too much: If your opponent is playing hands a lot, they must frequently be bluffing because it is unlikely they have a strong hand that often.
  • Betting on the flop: Good poker players with strong hands will usually place relatively low/medium bets on the flop to boost the pot without revealing that their hand is good. Aggressive players go too far and will sometimes bet over 75% of the limit following the flop.

Remember that the examples on this page are general guidelines. Although these are all frequent tells, not all poker players will display them. Some players are exceptional at disguising their poker bluffs and showing no tells, while others may trick you by using a common tell in reverse.

Another golden of poker bluffing is that you can only start making predictions on your opponent's bluffing once you have played a few hands. You should always give new players the benefit of the doubt. If you notice they start winning with bluffed hands, note their playing style and start using your knowledge against them.

Poker Bluffing Tips

Now that you have a good understanding of poker bluffs and are armed with these essential tips, you can start applying your knowledge and practising your bluffing skills. Soon, you can become successful at using bluffs and knowing when opponents are bluffing:

  • Learn to read a hand: We may be asking a bit much if you are just an online poker player looking for a bit of fun. However, if you can quickly learn your opponent's betting patterns (how often they bet, fold, or call), you may be able to know when they are poker bluffing.
  • Bluff intelligently: If you have just got a raise by bluffing on the flop, it does not mean you should just go all guns blazing and continue bluffing for the following cards. Always make decisions on each street and decide whether it is best to continue bluffing (remember, you could lose money if your bluff fails).
  • Do not bluff on every hand: Even if your opponent is displaying weaknesses hand after hand, you should avoid poker bluffing on each round. You will be over bluffing, and a wise opponent will quickly learn your patterns and start to turn your bluffs against you.
  • Select a betting range: Before you start a poker game, choose a range that you are comfortable bluffing with. How much are you willing to bet – and potentially lose – on a poker bluff?

Examples Of Poker Bluffs

Remember, all of your poker bluffs should make sense and serve a purpose within the game. Sometimes the best way to understand poker bluffing is to look at some examples.

Example Of When To Bluff

You are staying in a hand with a flush lined up during a game of Texas Hold 'em, wagering an increasing amount through each draw in the hope the winning combination will land. However, the cards do not land the flush following the flop and you are left without a winning chance. You have two choices, fold and lose your aggressive continuation bet wagers or bluff and hope your opponents fold. In this case, you should consider bluffing because your consistent bets should tell your opponent you have a strong hand.

Example Of When Not To Bluff

The best time to hold on and not bluff is when it is not very profitable for you. If the pot odds are small and opponents are not interested, it may not be worth bluffing. Obviously, if you have a great hand, you should avoid poker bluffing and bet wisely to win the biggest possible pot.

Poker Bluffing Conclusion

With all the knowledge and tips our poker experts at CasinoSource.co.uk provide in this guide, you can start building your poker strategy and bluff like a pro. However, remember that as poker is a game that involves luck and skill, no poker bluff will guarantee a win. Sometimes your opponents will surprise you by playing their own successful bluffs. Bluffing adds a lot of excitement to a poker game, but always remember that fun and excitement is what it is all about. So always gamble responsibly and keep a close eye on your bankroll.

Now it is time to put all your bluffing knowledge to practice. Select one of our recommended online poker sites, sign up and start applying your bluffing skills. While at it, don't forget to claim a generous welcome bonus to get you started at the tables!

FAQ

🤥 Do pro poker players bluff?

Yes, professional poker players use bluffing as part of their game strategy. However, while many low-level poker players think bluffing is what the game is all about, pro players use poker bluffing techniques more wisely. They choose the best times to use bluffs in a bid to trick opponents.

🤔 How to tell if someone is bluffing in online poker?

Learning to understand your opponent can help you decide if they are poker bluffing. While there is no bulletproof way to know if someone is bluffing, you can look for tells, betting patterns, and the style of play to understand whether they may be bluffing.

🃏 What are blocking bets in poker?

A blocking bet is a small bet of around 20-30% the limit that is designed to prevent an opponent from making a larger bet. It is usually used by players when they are out of position to try to push other players into calling the bet instead of raising.

💰 Is bluffing necessary in poker?

Yes, bluffing is a necessary part of many poker variants, including Hold 'em. While it is possible to play poker without bluffing, pulling a poker bluff can help transform weak hands into winning rounds against opponents holding better cards.

♦️ How do you spot a poker player’s tell?

The key to spotting a poker player's tell is by monitoring them during gameplay. There are many types of "tells", including facial twitches, hand gestures, tense posture, and more. If you monitor your opponent over a series of hands, including hands they poker bluff on, you may be able to pick up on their various tells.
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Ziv Chen

Ziv Chen

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Ziv Chen has been working in the online gambling industry for over two decades in senior marketing and business development roles. Ziv writes about a wide range of topics including slot and table games, casino and sportsbook reviews, American sports news, betting odds and game predictions. Leading a life full of conflict, Ziv constantly struggles between his two greatest loves: American football and US soccer.

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