How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Bluffing

Vitaly Lunkin

Part 7 of 10 in our series for the beginner poker player, this article explores one of the biggest leaks in a beginner's game: making too many bad bluffs.

Let's start by clearing up a misconception:

There is actually very little stone-cold bluffing in poker. Thanks mostly to Hollywood's dramatic interpretation of it, people seem to associate poker with making huge bluffs at every possible opportunity.

Just as players rarely, if ever, lose with a straight flush to a royal flush, the game simply doesn't work like that.

As you would expect from a game as in-depth as Texas Hold'em, bluffing comes in many various forms and degrees:

  • Quick bluffs
  • Semi-bluffs
  • Stone-cold bluffs (or naked bluffs)

Quick Bluffs

The vast majority of all bluffs in Hold'em are quick bluffs.

Also known as "small ball," these are small bets made to win small- to medium-sized pots with a high expected rate of success.

The risk is minimal, and the reward is slightly profitable.

Example: Three players check to you on the button with a flop of K K 7.

There were no raises pre-flop, and no one looks at all interested in this pot. There are really only two options:

  1. Someone has a king and is slowplaying.
  2. No one has a king and everybody's ready to fold

This scenario is straight forward. Chances are no one has a king, meaning they will be willing to fold.

Also, the size of the pot is too small to make a hero call worthwhile. This is a position bet, intended to finish the pot, regardless of your hand.


Let's say you raise pre-flop with A K and get two callers.

The flop comes J 9 5; you have nothing but a flush draw and over cards. The first player checks, followed by the second player betting three-quarters of the pot.

In this situation, raising would be a semi-bluff as technically you have nothing; you're behind anyone with as little as a pair.

The fact that you have a flush draw and the best overcards though means you have many legitimate ways to win this pot by showdown.

Your hand does have some value, making this only a semi-bluff. Ideally your opponent will fold and you will take the pot. But if you do get called there's the chance that you'll make the nuts on the turn.

Semi-bluffs are a crucial part of poker, but be warned: if you semi-bluff every time you have a big draw, you'll be as transparent as half of Britney Spears' wardrobe.

Stone-Cold Bluffs

Possibly the greatest stone-cold bluff ever to be caught on tape is Brad Booth's bluff against Phil Ivey in the third season of High Stakes Poker.

Brad Booth
Booth: Hollywood bluff against Ivey one of the most famous ever.

Brad was drawing dead to a five or a runner-runner two pair. Because his hand had almost no value whatsoever this is a textbook example of a stone-cold bluff.

Realistically, the only way Brad is going to win this pot is if Ivey folds.

These are the type of bluffs you see in Hollywood movies, and these are the types of bluffs people seem to think poker is made of. In reality, it's almost never a good idea to make a bluff like this.

To expect these sorts of bluffs to be profitable, you need to understand everything going on in the hand, including your opponent's thoughts and plans. It's a high-level play left only to the very best in the world.

Sure, you can make these bluffs and have them work, but without being a truly high-level player, you're just rolling the dice on not getting called.

Dan Harrington describes these bluffs as "dark tunnel bluffs." All you see is the light at the end of the tunnel. You have no idea what's actually going on around you.

To not suck at poker, you need to stop making stone-cold bluffs, and limit the number of quick and semi bluffs you're making.

The best way for a beginner to make money at poker is by playing straight-forward, ABC poker. If you have the best hand, bet. If you don't, fold.

For some examples on playing ABC Poker, head to: How Not to Suck at Poker Examples: ABC Poker

More on how not to suck at poker:

  1. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play Fewer Hands
  2. How Not to Suck at Poker: Play in Position
  3. How Not to Suck at Poker: Count Your Outs
  4. How Not to Suck at Poker: Learn Basic Odds
  5. How Not to Suck at Poker: Pay Attention
  6. How Not to Suck at Poker: Have a Bankroll
  7. How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Bluffing
  8. How Not to Suck at Poker: Keep Your Mouth Shut
  9. How Not to Suck at Poker: Keep Records
  10. How Not to Suck at Poker: Discuss the Game

How Not to Suck at Poker Examples:

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