Poker and the idea of bluffing go hand in hand. It’s one of those things that help separate it from other card games — it’s about psychology and never quite knowing exactly what the other player has in their hand. With all of that said, it should be noted that bluffing in the game has been greatly thanks to movies and the highly edited coverage of the game on TV. It’s time for some Real Talk about bluffing, so get your notebook out.
The hard fact is that most amateur players bluff far more than they should and that means they’re losing money over the long term. Good poker play means that you should still make money over time. Think of it this way: if you’re sitting at a six-handed table, each player has an equal chance on getting good or bad cards. The math says that each player should have a shot at the best hand once every six hands, so if every player played at the same level, nobody would lose and nobody would win.
But, let’s say one player (you) was able to win more money from their opponents when they had the best hand than their opponents got from them when they were holding better cards, that player would make more money in the long term. Looking at bluffing this way helps clarify what it’s really for: it helps you play your cards better than the other players play their cards.
You should never enter a hand with the intention of bluffing. In other words, bluff if you are confident that you can win the pot based on the way your opponents have been playing up to that point in the hand. It’s important to note that an experienced player can pick their spots and take down a few pots that should have been taken down by someone else, adding a little more to their stacks, but a novice isn’t going to be able to recognize these moments as well. If you’re not sure whether or not you can take down a pot with a bluff, then don’t bluff.
Bluffing does more than put money directly in your chipstack, though. It helps create a looser image than you actually have and it’ll let your opponents try to outplay you when you’re not actually bluffing. When you win those hands, you can start putting your opponents on tilt and that only helps you in the long term.
If you’ve sort of been skimming this article looking for a magical equation that tells you when to bluff, we’ve got bad news: it boils down to when you think your opponent will fold. That will generally only be apparent after you’ve been playing for a while. If you’re new to the game, stick to the basics and try using your position to get a better understanding of the opposition.