In my previous column here on Cardplayer Lifestyle, we explained why bluffing is essential to winning at poker, and presented an overview of key skills for successful bluffing, including the Esther Bluff tactic. This column goes into somewhat more detail.

Position and Situation

In all varieties of Texas Hold’em, position is important to success in all forms of deception, including bluffing.

Examples:

From a middle/late position, preflop, if there is no raise before you, a bluff-raise may help you steal the blinds. If a limper does call, you likely will have gained the “virtual button” position, giving you a distinct edge.

On the other hand, some situations shout “Red Light!” For example, from a late position, usually it is best not to bluff after a bet by a tight player. Likewise, you usually shouldn’t consider bluffing after an opponent raises, as you are likely to be called. Exception: You hold a small pair or better; all the other opponents folded to his raise; and you know that he is a deceptive player – likely to be trying to bluff out his opponents. In that case, reraise as a semi-bluff. Even if he calls your bet, and you miss, your small pair may still be best…

Break-Even for Bluffing

Just like nobody visits an online casino expecting to win a huge jackpot, you shouldn’t expect to win all your bluffs. They’ll work often, but not all the time. There will be occasions when a bluffing target catches a strong hand.

What percentage of your bluffs must succeed for bluffing to be a profitable option? Based on limited analysis, if you win more than 40 percent of your bluffs, you are likely to be well ahead. Even in a low-limit game, a “smart bluffer” can win over 70 percent of his or her bluffs and steals. That’s highly profitable!

Image counts

Image – your opponents’ perception of how you play your hands – can make a big difference. Being highly selective as to starting hands, you are bound to have a tight image. Then, when you make a bluff, your opponents are more likely to believe you and muck their cards, surrendering the pot to you.

Nature of the Board

Poker players are inclined to favor high-ranking cards (Ace to ten). If the flop includes such a card, you are not likely to bluff out all of your opponents on the flop, so if you’re a relatively inexperienced player, it’s advisable not to try bluff in that case. On the other hand, a “dry flop” generally suggests a good opportunity to go for a bluff.

Another situation: An Ace falls on the board on the flop; you don’t have one. The betting is checked all around. The turn brings a blank; everyone checks to you. This might be a good opportunity to go for a bluff – using the Esther Bluff, of course.

Semi-Bluffing

As I say in my book, The Art of Bluffing, “Every winning player should have the semi-bluff strategy as part of his poker ‘arsenal’ and employ it when appropriate.”

George Epstein adThe idea is to bet or raise using the Esther Bluff tactic when you do not yet hold a made hand, but have lots of good outs that could very well hit on the next card to give you a powerful hand – presumably the winning hand. Your opponents (the fewer, the better) might very well muck their cards, leaving the pot for you. If an opponent does call your bet, you can still catch one of your outs to gain the best hand and win the pot on the showdown.

In the third and final part of this series, we will focus on the other forms of deception, namely slow-playing, check-raising, trapping, and baiting your opponents.

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