Be aware of the incompetent bluffers in poker


When it comes to detecting a bluff, there are a lot of excellent resources. The point of this article is to offer a simple guide to the most common type of incompetent bluffers I find among inexperienced players. They come in two forms: those who talk too much and those who talk too little when they’re bluffing.

Keep in mind this is relative to a player’s normal personality. That is, a player who is normally friendly and conversational becomes overly chatty. Or, he clams up. What you’re looking for is a distinct and noticeable difference from his normal behavior during a hand. That normal behavior should be kept in context. If a player is talkative between hands but doesn’t say a word when he is in a hand, then the norm for him is silence. Conversely, some players only talk during hands, thinking it gives them an edge in seeking information.

Please keep in mind one more important note of caution: We’re only talking about incompetent bluffers here. There are plenty of sophisticated players who will put out false tells or try to talk you into calling when they really have the goods.

So, what is the value here? If you’re playing with less experienced or recreational players where the stakes are high enough that the outcome of the hand means something to your opponent, this is one factor that will prove telling profitable for you. The good thing is you don’t have to test the concept with your money. Start observing. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to watch showdowns carefully when you aren’t in a hand. See if you can determine if a player falls into one of these types of incompetent bluffers.

Even if you’re in a hand, you can test the theory. Say you missed a draw on the river and your opponent bets big. You know you’re going to fold, but why do it right away? Take your time. Engage your opponent in some conversation. Ask a few probing questions. See how he reacts. How comfortable is he? Is he talking too much? Not enough? Now, you may never see his hand when you fold, but you’ll be surprised how often a bluff gets revealed. Some players just can’t resist showing the table how smart they are.

After a while, you’ll start to get a pretty good feel for these types of incompetent bluffers and you’ll start picking them off or reraising them for a profit.

— David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at