Bluffing is often overlooked by online poker players who are transitioning to live games and this means that they’ve got a major leak in their game when they bring it to the real world. It’s an easy enough problem to understand: there is no face-to-face contact in online games and so intentions are based completely upon betting patterns and the like. This isn’t to say there’s no bluffing in online poker — there is — but it’s more mathematical than psychological. Let’s look at the different elements of the live bluff and how they help you.
The best way to look at bluffing is to consider it a poker-based derivation of storytelling. You want to make the tale you’re weaving as convincing as possible so your opponent believes there is no possible way his hand can beat you. However, as any con man will tell you, you have to make sure your story bears up under scrutiny, which means you can’t back down when you’re building your fiction. Let’s look at a hand where the flop has delivered two medium-strength cards of the same suit. Your opponent, who’s playing with a high pocket pair, leads the play after the flop and you now have to make a critical decision.
In this scenario, you’re holding a couple of suited connectors that aren’t going to make anything with what’s on the board but you’ve established a reputation at the table. You’ve got credibility. If you opt to re-raise here, you’re basically stating that you’ve got a flush draw and they should probably back down if they can’t beat the hand you’re trying to make. The problem is that if you’re called, you have to continue with your story, even when the turn card comes and doesn’t completely this mythical flush you’re building. If you check, you’re admitting that you’re not on the flush draw and you just want to see the next card for free.
Let’s say the river brings you the final card for the flush. You should easily win with your next bet. However, if the river blanks, then you have to end your story early if you’re sure you don’t have enough to win. One thing to keep in mind is that you’re not telling this story by yourself: the board is going to help you along and help make your bets more convincing.
As we mentioned when we talked about your reputation: your credibility is key when you’re telling a story at the table, You have to bank on that credibility and make sure you’ve earned the right to go for the bluff. On the other hand, if you’ve been jumping into as many pots and possible, the odds are that your bluff simple isn’t going to work. The best fictions have a lot of truth around them, and that’s something to keep in your mind when you contemplate bluffing.