If you could pick your ideal time to bluff, when would it be? I would think you’d want five existing factors: a big pot, one opponent, a weak or vulnerable opponent, a hand played like it’s strong on your part and fold equity. I find most players bluff at less optimal times. They may semibluff to a draw, bluff when they miss a draw, make a position move preflop with a dwindling stack, make continuation bets, etc.
Those moves may be effective depending on the situation and opponent. However, they aren’t likely to contain all five of the ideal conditions. A semibluff, a failed draw bluff and continuation bets are often transparent. A preflop move may be transparent and isn’t made with a big pot except for the late stages of a tournament.
So, what would be the ideal bluffing situation? I like to isolate a tight-aggressive player who likes to make continuation bets but won’t make a hero call. How is this done? First, it helps if you have position or at least know you’ll be heads-up. For instance, say a TAG player open-raises from middle position. It folds to you in the big blind. I tend to call with any two cards here. Depending on the texture and size of the flop, I will check-call the flop. Then I check-raise the turn. If my opponent checks behind on the turn, I have enough information to bet the river, though I’d be careful if an ace hit an otherwise benign board. You’ve played this hand to create the five conditions while letting your opponent build the pot for you.
Or, try this where you use position to help build the pot yourself. A TAG player opens from early position for 2.5 times the big blind. It gets folded to you on the button.
I like to make a minimum raise here with almost any two cards to get the blinds to fold and find out how strong the open-raiser really is. You run the risk that he might reraise, in which case you have to let go of the hand.
If he calls, you have all five conditions in place. You have built a pot, you have one opponent who is vulnerable to your position and aggressiveness and you have made the case that you have a strong hand.
There are plenty of other situations I’m sure you can identify or manipulate to get the five conditions. It will take practice to get comfortable, but give it a try. One word of caution: In poker, nothing is absolute and you will need to make adjustments on the fly depending how the board and action plays out. Good luck.
— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable is available on Kindle. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.