The Esther Bluff is bound to improve your bluffing success while playing poker; and it can often help on other occasions when playing deceptively.
Created by my granddaughter when she was a teenager, it entails playing with confidence and self-assurance. Indeed, when she raised my bet, I was convinced she had a big hand. It was the expression on her face accompanied by her body and head motions as she sat up and leaned forward – a reverse tell – to make a big raise. I was convinced; I just “knew” my hand was second-best.
Without realizing it, my granddaughter had created the “Esther Bluff” – a tactic that is essential to successful bluffing. It dramatically increases my success rate from about 60% to over 80% in $4-$8 limit hold’em.
Playing limit hold’em, in a middle position, you are dealt Qd-Js, a decent starting hand with good potential for improving on the flop. The flop brings Jd-10c-8d.
You have top pair on the board and draws to a straight and flush. (Lots of outs.) The two blinds check, the UTG open-bets and is called by positions 4 and 5. If this kind of lineup at the felt sounds like it’s comprised of the kind of players who play online jackpot games in India, you might be right! Anyhow, now it is your turn to declare. The situation seems right for the Esther Bluff to thin the field to enhance your chances of keeping the lead.
But there is a problem. In low/middle-limit games, your raise may not be big enough to force out many players. Your Esther Bluff raise will be a double-bet to the players behind you. That could make some difference. But don’t just raise it up. Your confidence and the reverse tell sends a message to your opponents: “I am sure he has a powerful hand!”
Beyond that, the Esther Bluff can help you even when you don’t force out all of your opponents. Example: Starting with a big pocket-pair – say K-K. You are in a middle position; in addition to the two blinds, the UTG has paid to see the flop. Probability theory tells us that your K-K will be an underdog if you do not flop a set and three or more of the “enemy” remain in the hand. (The odds are about 8-to-1 against you.) Use the Esther Bluff to force more of them to muck their cards. The same applies when you hold any made hand before the flop – A-A, K-K, Q-Q and J-J.
Caution: Don’t try it from a late position. Opponents who have already paid to see the flop will not fold at that point. The pot is too big, and they only need to call a minimum bet to see the three community cards – that will show them over 70 percent of their final hands.
Another exception: When holding a premium drawing hand (A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q), preflop is not the time to thin the field. Wait to see if the flop improves your hand. For example, starting with A-K offsuit, you can expect to pair one of your two hole cards about one out of three times. Then, it would be wise to raise it up on the flop to thin the field, giving your top pair a better chance to hold up all the way to the river.
Another benefit: As your opponents observe how your chip stack has grown, intuitively many will hesitate to play against you when you use the Esther Bluff. They fear you! Now your bluffs have an even better chance of succeeding.