The Art of the Poker Bluff

The bluff is one poker strategy that almost everyone things they understand. It is purely the act of deception, used to make a week hand look stronger than it is in hopes of getting the opponent to fold.

What makes it successful is knowing how to pick your spots. Understanding the six key areas to consider when deciding to bluff: your opponents, your image, the betting history of the hand, your position, the strength of your hand, and the size of the bet. Let me address them each in turn.

Your Opponents

Ultimately, your opponents determine whether a bluff will be successful. If you bet and he folds – your bluff works and you win the hand. If you bet and he calls your bluff fails.

So how can you control what your opponent does? You bet your hand; he bets his. What can you do to affect his behavior?

There are many different types of poker players and you need to pick the right opponents to bluff against. Ideally you want to have only one opponent to bluff against. While there are times when your bluff will work against an entire lineup, most of the time you want it to be head to head. Similarly, you want to avoid bad targets for your bluff. You don’t want to bluff a guy who is so bad that he doesn’t think about your bet when he decides to call or fold? You don’t want to try to bluff a guy who is too loose to lay down his hand to your bet – even if he thinks you have him beat. After all, if he’s too bad to think about what your bet means – then he’s too dumb to lay down his hand no matter what you do. So don’t bluff a guy who calls too much. As the saying goes, it’s easier to bluff a good player than a bad player.

Along those lines, the recent history of your opponent needs to be taken into consideration as well. Some poker players get hammered so badly in a session that they tilt and become fatalistic. They’ll give away the rest of their stack with any kind of draw. They don’t make good targets of your bluff – even if normally they’re a good poker player. Conversely, if a guy has just won a large pot and is stacking his chips — he’s probably thinking more about preserving his stack – and may make a great target for a bluff – even if he’s not normally too swift. So at that point he’d make a good bluffing target.

Your Image

Your table image plays a large part in whether your bluff will be successful. You need to be aware of what it is in order to exploit it. If you’re seen as a tight player your bets will more likely be believed as representing strength. Your bluffs will be more likely to succeed. On the other hand, if you’re perceived as a wild man – who throws his chips around like a drunken sailor  – your bluffs will almost surely fail – since you’re likely to be called. Take your image to others into consideration and make your bluffs accordingly.

Betting History of the Hand

Bets are not viewed in a vacuum. They are part of a narrative. Your bet, to succeed against perceptive opponents, needs to fit into that narrative to be believed. Your good opponent is not likely to believe that your bet on the river means you hit your flush if your betting up until that point didn’t indicate that you were on a flush draw.

Hand Stregnth

Pure bluffs – when a hand has absolutely no chance of success unless your opponent folds – are less likely to win you money then bluffs that are combined with hands with the possibility of improving as the hand develops. These are generally known as “semi-bluffs”. I think of them as bluffs with a back up plan – a way to win even if they don’t win outright as a bluff.

Your Position

The position you are in relative to the remaining player or players in the hand is an important consideration. Generally, you want to see how your opponent reacts to the board before you decide to bluff – making late position more advantageous than early position when bluffing. If he checks you can often presume him to be weak and bet. If you have to bet or check first, you won’t have the advantage of seeing his reaction to the board.

Bet Size

In no limit it’s important to think about the size of your bet when you are bluffing. Ideally, you will bet the least amount necessary to get your opponent to fold. But what is that amount?

It may seem that the more you bet the more likely your opponent will be to fold. As a practical matter this is rarely true, however. It’s better to think in terms of thresholds beyond which opponents will not call. And you want to get as close to the threshold as you can.


There’s a time and place to succeed with bluffing, which is a complicated matter. Yet novice players often fall into the trap of bluffing far too much. It’s important that you consider all the factors in this lesson to before you attempt to pull off a bluff. If you’re new to poker and are just starting out then it’s best to avoid the temptation to bluff. When you combine this knowledge with valuable playing experience, the art of bluffing will become second nature.

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US Poker Insight

A partisan attack on the DOJ’s opinion regarding the Wire Act, Caesars reaches deals with senior creditors, and legal US sports betting suffers another set-back.

A right-wing political group, whose founder has ties to Sheldon Adelson, has been quietly mounting a challenge to the US Department of Justice’s most recent opinion on the Wire Act which states that the law only applies to sports betting.

Judicial Watch requested “any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the December 23, 2011 ruling to legalize non-sports betting over the internet, including but not limited to any records on the legal basis for the ruling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.”

The political advocacy group sued the DOJ when it did not respond to what it likely considered a frivolous request.

Phil Nagy, the CEO of the Winning Poker Network (WPN), took a shot at regulated online poker calling it overrated. Nagy pointed to “heavy taxation and segregated player pools” as keys to the lack of success online poker has achieved in regulated markets around the world.


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How to Deal with Aggressive and Passive Players

Poker Strategy: How to Deal with Aggressive and Passive Players in Poker Games

Poker players tend to be either passive or aggressive in their approach to the game, and understanding how to deal with those different approaches can take you a long way as far as profiting from your time at the table (even at the online poker tables).

A passive player checks and calls frequently, generally happy to let the other people at the table move with the lead unless he is holding the absolute nuts. An aggressive player follows the “raise or fold” poker philosophy. If you are in a passive game, you’ll see a lot of calling and checking, but if you’re in an aggressive game, you can expect to see raising and re-raising taking place a lot.

Most people who are new to poker games are fairly passive and loose as well. People who are experienced often call these players ATMs (referring to them as an easy source of cash). The real gamblers enjoy playing aggressive and loose at the same time. You’ll see them bluffing quite a bit and raking in fairly large pots sometimes even those they are just holding junk. Often these players will go broke, but on other days they also tend to break everyone around them. Players who are passive and tight are known as rocks, because they’re as easy to steal money from as it would be to pull blood out of a stone. You also have to work hard to lose to this player; if he bets, he generally has a hand that is as good as promised.

The majority of players try to be aggressive and tight. They are selective with their battles at the table, looking for instances when they have the upper hand. However, once the battle gets underway, they will stay in it to win it, raising and re-raising with intensity.

So how do you deal with different types of players in these paradigms? Let’s say that you are at a table at a legal online poker site with someone who is passive, pay attention to what happens when he bets. If he usually has strong hands when he bets, then you’re looking at a rock. He won’t win every hand, because there might be a stronger hand elsewhere on the table. However, when he bets, he isn’t holding junk, so make sure that if you bet against him, you also have a strong hand.

If he’s aggressive and tight, you’ll want to pay even more attention, because you know he won’t let go once a raising war begins. Expect the stakes to go higher, but make sure that you have something strong before you get in a tug-of-war over the pot. If he’s aggressive and loose, look for his tells around bluffing as opposed to betting with strong hands. If you can get a sense of when he’s just gotten bored and is bluffing for the fun of it, latch on to that battle and hold on until you have the pot. Reading these types of players helps you walk away with the balance of the money.

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Using Slow Playing to Win Real Cash

In real money poker, slow playing (also known as trapping or sandbagging) is a deceptive strategy that is generally the opposite of a bluff. A bluff is an aggressive bet with a weak hand, but a slow play involves passive or weak betting with a strong hand. The purpose is to get opponents to play in a pot when they might fold if you raise, or to make them put more money in the pot than they might have if you had been more aggressive, as with a raise or a swifter bet.  Slow playing gives away protection against possible improvement in opponents’ hands and risks the loss of a bet’s pot-building value if the opponents check as well.

In order to profit from a slow hand, here are some things that generally have to be true in order to win real cash:

Your hand has to be quite strong

The free card that you’re permitting to your opponents must not be one that could let them beat your hand – or that could give them a draw to a superior hand on the next round that has enough pot odds to make a call worthwhile

The pot still has to be somewhat small

You have to believe that you will scare away opponents if you’re too aggressive and that you can still beat everyone if they stay in

Let’s take a look at an example from seven-card stud. Bob gets three 5’s right away. Murray, showing a queen, bets first. Bob raises, and Murray calls. The next round brings Murray another queen, but Bob gets that fourth 5 (this has low odds of happening, but that’s the kind of strong hand needed here). Bob thinks that Murray either has three queens or two pair. Murray bets one more time, and Bob flat calls. Over the next couple of rounds, Bob only calls – and just checks if Murray doesn’t bets. Bob’s hand is so good that he’s unlikely to lose, so protection isn’t necessary. If Murray only has two pair and Bob is aggressive, Murray may fold, thinking that Bob’s hand is really strong (which it is). By letting Murray stay in for lesser stakes, Bob hopes that Murray will get up to a strong hand – but not strong enough. That will motivate Murray to keep betting – perhaps even raising – as the rounds go by.

If you’re playing with people who are observant, bluffing frequency influences how effective slow playing will be – and vice versa. If people think of you as an aggressive bluffer, opponents are already more willing to call your bets and raises. However, if people think of you as more likely to slow play, they are more likely to respect your bluffs.

One variety of the slow play is called “fishing for the overcall.” This happens when a player’s last card brings him a tremendous hand. The opponent in front of that player bets, and other opponents have yet to act. The player might normally raise with this hand, but if he just calls, other opponents might overcall instead of folding, as they might have if he had raised.  This is common in such high-low split games as Omaha, but it can also be applied in Texas hold’em.

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