All successful poker players must be able to make a well-timed bluff.
The bluff is probably the most talked-about poker concept, although it is not used as often as people believe. Still, to exclude bluffing from poker would result in an uninteresting game: If you never bluff you become too predictable and will not be able to maximize your winnings, much less win at all.
You bluff when you have no chance of winning the pot or when you are trying to steal the pot before all the cards are dealt. In a cash game, it is possible to calculate whether a bluff will be profitable or not. To do this, you compare the odds of making a successful bluff to the size of the bet and the size of the pot.
Therefore, an important skill is the ability to determine the likelihood that your opponents will fold.
The following are some factors to consider when deciding whether to bluff or not:
- Type of opponent
- Number of opponents
- Your table image
- Your "reading" skills
- The board (if any)
- The size of the pot
- Your position
Type of Opponent
Do not bluff weak opponents who call with anything (referred to as "calling stations"). This is the most common mistake. Be sure that your opponent is a good enough player to fold a hand.
Number of Opponents
In general, do not bluff a field of three or more players, especially not in Limit poker. A bluff is much more likely to succeed against one opponent, not only because it is just one player but also because the pot is usually smaller, which makes it less desirable.
Your Table Image
A bluff is less likely to succeed if you have a loose table image rather than a tight one. If you were recently caught bluffing, your opponents will be more likely to call you in the future, although reverse psychology can occasionally prove beneficial in such situations. For example, if a good player caught you bluffing and he regards you as a good player, he might think you would not dare bluff him again.
Your "Reading" Skills
If you "read" the game well and are able to put your opponents on likely holdings, you will be able to identify good bluffing opportunities. This is probably the hardest and most important skill to master.
If the board looks like it could have hit your opponents or presents many drawing possibilities, a bluff is less likely to succeed. Look for boards without many draws or cards that are likely to improve your opponents' hands. If you can represent a hand, the bluff is more likely to succeed. An uncoordinated board with one scare card that you can represent is usually a good bluffing opportunity.
The Size of the Pot
Your opponents will be more prone to call if the pot is big because they get better pot odds. On the other hand, if you make a successful bluff in a big pot the reward will also be bigger. This is when good judgment comes into play.
If you are sitting in late position, you will usually have more access to information regarding your opponents' hands and, thus, will be in a better situation to bluff. For example, if it is checked to you, the board looks favorable and there are few players in the pot.
It is crucial that you consider all of these factors when deciding whether to bluff or not.