The world's leading poker book publisher

Bluffing, Part 3

01/07/2019 by Steve Blay

This is the third part of my series on bluffing. In parts 1 and 2, we learned:

  1. Our bet size (relative to the pot size) determines how often we should be bluffing on the river.
  2. We bluff much more often on the flop, because those bluffs are mostly semi-bluffs that have equity, as opposed to pure river bluffs that have no chance of winning unless our opponent folds.
  3. On the river, we want to bluff with the absolute worst hands in our range, unless a stronger hand would block more of our opponent’s strong hands.

In this final article I want to give three practical tips to apply all of this.

Tip #1: River bluffs in big pots can be a huge source of profit

Of course, our bluffing frequency is given by game theory, but as most of us have heard before, if our opponent is playing exploitably, we should deviate from the theory and bluff more or less than optimal. In general, which way are we going to want to deviate?

Here’s my simple answer to this: river bluffs can be tremendously profitable in low-stakes games. Let’s say you’re playing $1/$3 No-Limit and there is $200 in the pot. If you bet a stack of red chips ($100), this is an intimidating bet – some low-stakes players don’t part with $100 easily! You won’t get called as often as you should – and since you are only risking $100 to win $200, this bluff only needs to work ⅓ of the time to break even!

Note that I’m specifically talking about river bluffs in big pots here. If there’s only $40 in the pot by the river, and you bluff for $20, that bet is going to get called more often than not. Because $20 means nothing to anybody. But $100, even if it’s only half the pot, means something to a low-stakes player. Especially one that came with a limited amount of money in his wallet, and wants to get a few hours of entertainment before going home (which is A LOT of low-stakes players).

Now, there are always going to be those suspicious types, who have plenty of money in their wallet to reload, and will bluff catch more often than theoretically correct, even in big pots. But they are more rare at low stakes, and you need to know who they are.

Tip #2: Don’t bluff catch in big pots!

Looking at this from another angle, the opposite is also true. Your opponents also don’t bluff enough for big money on the river. So, when your low-stakes opponent makes a big river bet, you rarely want to bluff-catch. In fact you rarely want to call without the nuts. For example, let’s say you flop a set in a low-stakes game. You bet all three streets only to get raised all-in on the river for a large sum of money. Against all but the trickiest low-stakes opponents, I’m not calling that bet without the nuts. “But…but…the only hand that can beat me is Queen-Jack, which made a straight on the river. And that means he would have been drawing to a gutshot the whole way!” (Trust me, he’s got Queen-Jack.)

Tip #3: Bluff on scare cards (sometimes even when it doesn’t make sense!)

Finally, one last thing to say about when to bluff. Generally, you want to bluff when a scare card comes on the river, that could reasonably have helped your hand. Let’s say you have Qh-10h and the board was Js-Ah-8s-5d-2s. You flopped a double gutter, and you call bets on the flop and turn. As you can see, you missed your draw, but a card completing the flush draw came on the river, and your opponent checks to you. This is a great bluff card, because your action on the flop and turn just “screams” that you were drawing to the flush. (Many casual players won’t even notice the potential double gutter straight draw, and will assume you were drawing to the flush).

Now that being said, against really weak opponents, your bluffs don’t always have to make sense! Suppose by the river the board is K5374. Against a good opponent, you wouldn’t want to bluff at that board unless it made sense for you to have a 6 in your hand somehow, given the action so far. But against unsophisticated opponents, when checked to, I would bet this river almost every single time. They’ll snap fold their top pair on a board like that.


That’s about all I have to say about bluffing for now. Just remember, it’s virtually impossible to be a winning player, against all but the worst opponents, without making big bluffs from time to time. If you’re not a big fan of that, you certainly need to address it to take your game to the next level.