Poker lessons from Bluffing 101

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This column is intended to be an all-around crash course on how to help you become a less exploitable bluffer. Let’s face it; bluffing is part of the game. In today’s poker world, bluffing is essential to being a successful player. Long gone are the days where you could fold everything but high pairs and value bet for three streets against some slackjaw. There are a few types of bluffs I want to address:

• The continuation-bet, when you raised preflop with high cards, missed the flop but bet to win the pot.

• The semi-bluff, when you have outs, such as a straight draw or flush draw, and you bet.

• The “OMG I can only win the pot by bluffing” bluff, when on the river you missed your draw and you have no showdown equity.

When making a continuation bet on a dry board you must be bold and give your opponent a reason to fold. He probably knows you didn’t hit the flop, but you must bet because he likely didn’t hit it, either. Hands such as J-10 suited are going to fold on a Q-2-3 board when you c-bet. If you alternatively check behind, they can bet any turn and make us guess if they have a piece of the flop. Keep c-betting until they start to play back at you. This creates a dynamic that is easy to exploit when you actually smash a flop.

When semi-bluffing keep in mind the real reason why it is profitable is your fold equity. The odds of you hitting a flush draw when you flopped four of one suit are about 36 percent. Add the percentage of times your opponent folds to that number and we have ourselves one hell of a profitable play. Say you have {6-Clubs}{7-Clubs} and call a preflop raise to see a flop of {q-Clubs}{2-Clubs}{3-Diamonds}. This is a great spot to check-raise because your opponent will likely c-bet with A-K or A-J and fold to a raise. Beware of calling all-ins with draws because the fold equity won’t be there. Make sure your opponent has just enough chips to make him fold. It feels great to start winning pots with seven-high!

When you missed the river and you know you can’t win, maybe it’s time to bluff. Or maybe it’s time to pack up and call the hand quits. A good metric to examine when thinking about bluffing the river is board texture and how quickly your opponent called the turn. In my experience when a low-limit cash-game player calls the flop and turn, rarely are they folding the river, so you should probably give up. It’s horrible to compound your error by throwing in more good money after bad. But there are always exceptions in this game we play. If the board runs out really scary we can bet with impunity and take down the pot.Here are a few key tips to keep in mind when bluffing:

• Tell a good story: Make sure you’re representing a certain hand when bluffing.

• Bet-sizing: Would you bet this amount if you had the hand you’re representing?

• Timing: Take the same amount of time to act at all times.

• Ask yourself questions: What range of hands will your opponent fold if you bet or raise in this spot? If you bet more will they fold a larger percentage of that range? Remember, the folding of certain hands is a function of your bet-sizing in some cases.

— Mike Wolf is a professional poker player who spends his time on the road. Follow him on Twitter (@mikewolf7) or on surebetpoker.net.