If you play poker, you will have undoubtedly been a position where you are sure your hand isn’t a winning hand, and you will need to bluff in Texas Hold’em poker to take the pot down. In most cases, players with weak or losing hands will over bluff in these positions.
Overusing bluffs is one of the most common reasons players lose a lot of money playing poker or bust out of tournaments needlessly. Which begs the question, should you bluff? And if you should, when should you bluff in Texas Hold’em Poker?
This guide explains when it is a good idea to bluff and when you should avoid bluffing.
Should You Bluff in Texas Hold’Em Poker?
Yes, bluffing is a key tool in a wide arsenal of tools to become a successful poker player.
With that said, you should not be bluffing regularly for the following reasons:
- You will become predictable, and your bluffs will be easier to call,
- Some of your bluffs will be called regardless, and you will quickly lose chips if you bluff too often.
The key here is to bluff infrequently and narrow down your bluffs to situations where it is highly likely you will induce a fold. The best way to isolate spots to bluff is to read your opponent’s position and then play the board.
Read Your Opponent – Bluff in Texas Hold’em Poker
As you play a poker game you will start to pick up little clues about the types of players you are against.
You may notice players that are very protective of their chip stacks and more likely to fold marginal hands. You may notice players who are more inclined to make hero calls or gamble with marginal hands.
Of course, when employing your bluffing strategy, you want to avoid players who like to gamble. Instead, you should be isolating the players who fold more often and look to exploit this with your bluffs.
Reading your opponent goes far beyond basic principles of poker play. For example, even a player who folds marginal hands regularly may feel they have a read on you and call your bluff.
You should pay attention to how the hand plays out carefully before deciding to bluff. Does your opponent seem to be calling to see additional cards to make a better hand? Are they being aggressive and potentially bluffing themselves?
This is a skillset that is honed over many hours of practice. Most poker players are not good at reading other people, and by developing this skillset you are putting yourself in a narrow elite level of player.
The key to reading your opponent is putting yourself in their position as the hand unfolds. What kind of hands will they raise with? What kind of hands will they be happy to check back for a free card? Do they appear to be trapping to elicit a bet from you?
These questions and many more go into your overall gauge of a situation. The most successful poker players can read opponents to the point they can call out their holding cards – making it impossible for them to call a bluff because they know you know what they have.
Ranges are extremely important in modern poker and once again you can use your opponents perceived range to isolate spots where you can exploit them using bluffs.
Around a third of all poker players you will encounter have tight poker ranges, opting to play premium hands only and sometimes incorporating low pocket pairs and suited connectors.
If this type of player is three-betting preflop, you can narrow down their cards to premium hands only as conservative players tend to avoid unconventional play with low pocket pairs or suited connectors.
When a flop comes with low cards, you then have range advantage. You know the flop is not good for their range and if you are good at protecting your range, you will be in the opportune position to take the pot down there and then.
It is perfectly fine to bluff the flop and take the pot down – in fact you should feel encouraged to do so rather than let more cards come and your opponent catching up. Remember the idea of bluffing is to get the chips, not potentially allow your opponent to catch up and be more inclined to call.
When Not to Bluff in Texas Hold’em Poker
There are plenty of instances when bluffing is a terrible idea.
The most common spots not to bluff are:
- On the flop if the board has flush or straight draws,
- If your bluff is predictable after the river, for example missed draws,
- If your opponent has invested a large amount of their chip stack to a pot and made them pot committed.
Unfortunately, these are the spots where players bluff the most. Larger pots are more attractive to steal, and it can be tempting to think your opponent might fold. If they are pot committed, the chances of them folding are greatly reduced and you are gambling with your bluff at that point.
Likewise, when you have air after the river and you have called to chase a hand, it is incredibly tempting to make a large over bet and try and represent a hand you don’t have. The problem here is you have backed yourself into a position and are playing your bluff because of your hand rather than the opponents.
Good poker players will have identified their bluffing spots by the flop and will be setting up play to make the river bet bluff. Bad poker players will panic at the last minute after failing to make a hand and make a bluff out of desperation.
In general, if you haven’t got a read on your opponent’s position by the flop and you haven’t decided this is a bluffing spot by that point, then you shouldn’t be bluffing.
Overreliance on Blockers
Sometimes even the best poker players rely too heavily on blockers when deciding to call a bet or make a bluff play.
Daniel Negreanu is particularly overdependent on blockers when formulating whether to call or bluff and it almost always ends poorly for him.
Blockers are cards in your hand that prevent others having a hand. For example, if you hold an ace and the board shows a flush if your opponent has two suited cards, you have blocked the nut flush.
Blocking the nut flush and completely disregarding the possibility your opponent has a strong flush is bad poker play. Most poker hands are won with middling hands, it is rare for the nut poker hand to come into play because they are rarer and therefore harder to hit.
A player with King Queen suited with a board having three other cards of the same suit is going to out block you, even if you have the ace. This is because for you to have the nut flush (the only hand they lose to) you need another suited card with your ace. They hold two suited cards; the board holds three and they may assume you hold the ace.
That is six suited cards out of thirteen used up. If they suspect you hold the ace, they then must consider the likelihood of you calling play to the river with an ace rag suited card. Maybe ace through to five makes it to the flop, but how likely are players to call with A6, A7, A8, A9.
On the balance of probabilities, they out block you and they will almost certainly call any bluff you make with your ace that you mistakenly assumed blocked them from calling.
Optimal Bluffing Position – Bluff in Texas Hold’em Poker
The optimal bluffing position is when you can be fairly certain of your opponent’s hand and there are a few hands you can represent that beat them.
Your play up to the bluff will have told the story of a strong poker hand, reinforcing the fold option to your opponent.
If your play leading to the bluff is unusual it is more likely to elicit suspicion from your opponent and the ability to fold their hand will decline. Good bluffing is done sparingly, plays to your strong image and reinforces a strong story you have told your opponent as the entire hand plays out.