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bluffing is all about timing, what do you need to see to bluff. I use to do pre meditated bluffs, it would seem to me the table would tighten up so I would think "damn the torpedo's full speed ahead. and just try to shoot my way out. with often bad results. this was more back in the days of limit, it usually started out as a blind steal, then with a dose of stubbornness on my part would degrade into further failure. as I got into NLHE, I started internalizing s mmantra of bluffing when it hit me in the face that a bluff is the play, usaully a Check raise when I spotted a desperate bet from some one. much better. what is your basic thought process to initiate a bluff? are you happy with that approach?

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my answer is in regards to online MTTs, where i have most experience with bluffing.

online, it's all about bet-sizing as well as timing your actions against the play clock. you never want to let a decision drag out very long at all and you want to remain in control of the situation at all times, starting pre-flop.

represent a hand with regards to position and don't do anything too wacky or out-of-norm. i generally bet "the same" although i mix up sizing slightly across a various spectrum, but still within a certain BB range. what i mean by this, is when you have AA, don't go crazy and when you have 72o, don't go crazy, either. once again, you want to let them know that you are in control because you have the best hand.

post-flop when isolated versus a single opponent or even with two opponents behind your action, lead out. remember, you led pre-flop with a great hand and your hand has either improved on the flop or stayed the same. either way, it's still a solid hand.

note: the following is situational based, but it's a fine example of when and how to bluff.

back to leading out, one of my favorite "moves" is to bet 2-3ish BB under half-pot size. this is a legit move, as it forces your opponent to make a decision. plus, you're building up the pot that you are no doubt about to win by adding some of your opponent's chips. price them in, but don't price them in to an extent they're crushing any draws. AKA, it's not wise to bet on a board that's all the same suit, obviously. (at least, not always) if i get a caller or two after this, i generally will bet under half-pot again on the turn. this forces them to make a decision, once again. you've raised both streets so far and your opponent(s) have not forgotten your pre-flop action. their cards might not be looking so hot, since you're repping AA KK pretty strong right now. plus you've just about priced them in to call. it's tempting. sometimes they do, but often times you'll find them simply folding. however, in the event they call and the river bricks, you're able to either once again bet under half the pot or bet around 2/3rds of the pot. the triple barrel bluff. a grand statement that simply says your AA/KK is the dominate hand against their TT or otherwise unimproved hand. they've invested chips in the pot, but not enough to risk losing anymore chips, which if you've gathered is generally a substantial amount. chips you didn't get crazy or do wacky things for. chips you've invested a minimal amount in so if that river doesn't brick or they somehow improve their hand on the turn and river, you're able to fold to any action that deems folding necessary comfortably. most of the time, however, you'll find they didn't want to risk their tournament life for a crappy busted draw or low-end hand. anyways, this has been my "move" that i have had the most success with and am generally the most happy with.

the main thing to remember is you have to feel that you are in control and in order to do this successfully you need to let your opponents know that you ARE in control and you ARE winning the hand.

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It's a good exercise to think in terms of the opposite end of the question, as in, "When do you not bluff?" Unless you can answer this question perfectly, which most people can't, being able to list all the reasons for bluffing matters less than being able to tell when those factors are important or when it's more important to just fold and cut your losses. For me, I only bluff when neither of the following is true, and I want to bluff:

  • Your opponents won't fold.

You sit down, got lucky and win two hands, but because you're observant and have been watching your opponents' hands as they call your Ace pair hit and then show their cards. You realize they really like to bluff-catch, or call on every value bet even with only a 10-high, or just tells you outright they like you and is giving you free chips (!). If they make it easy for you, then you don't need to make it complicated. On a table where it makes no sense to throw chips in when you have a hand too weak (since everyone is either chasing or does beat you) then don't.

(The inverse, then, is that a bluff is placed because you think your opponent might fold. Causing the bottom pair to fold against you when you only have an Ace high is delicious. Not having to play out your flush draw and risk having to face a difficult decision when you slip it and your opponent bets and you have to decide if it's possible to bluff-catch with a middle high card is really delicious. If you know your opponent good enough you can sense how many weak hands they may potentially fold there are. If none remains (all bluff targets would have folded), then a bluff would make no more sense.)

(Also, if no one is calling your value bets and folding way too often, then you should bluff with a higher rate to pull in chips for when you do have a hand. That's a difficult concept and if you can master that, you probably don't need to read this wall of text.)

  • Your opponent's hand is good.

It's a common saying that we all make mistakes, and players who are on their way to improving should always aim to reduce their mistakes. It also happens that most people are risk averse, and would prefer not to lose more than what they can afford, so players who can switch between playing passively and aggressively often just tell you outright how good their hand is with their actions. If you know they always enter the preflop with a 3bet when they have good hole cards (an example is high pocket pairs, or something near premium hand level), then it makes sense to avoid conflict against their 3bet when you know your win chance is better against a different opponent / situation.

If they represent a hand that you probably can't beat with either the showdown or a bluff, then neither really needs to happen. Unless you're giving away chips, in which case merry christmas!

(The contrary, then, is that if the situation tells you that your opponents' hand doesn't seem strong, you might have better chance of having a bluff succeed as compared to any other game. Good blockers, good position, other reads etc all can contribute as factors to consider.)

  • You're short-stacked, or just in general don't have the margin to lose more.

Trying to win every hand is difficult, and it's even worse when luck is against you and your top two pair vs bottom two pair goes sour when your opponent draws into a full house. Because luck is in play, not every good call would be a call that you want to take every time, and knowing when to value the factors that change that decision is important. It's also a thing that if your opponents have a far deeper stack than you do, and they have a hand that is comfortable enough to put you all in, then instead of regretting not giving up you could always try to get away cheap.

The more chips you put in, it also makes the pot bigger, so future bets will likely grow in size, making mistakes more punishing. Rather than that being a reason to bluff less, it creates an incentive to delay the bluff bet to the next street, which also can affect the likelihood of the bluff being believed. Or if you were going to bet but a villain bets triple your expected size, you would know to give up without having to spend your original planned bet, which can always be helpful.

  • No confidence over your opponents, or just don't feel like it's your chance to win yet.

Unless you're the best player in the world (I am not!), there will always be great players who play better than you. Sometimes you just can't read them, and even worse, feel that they have you beat most of the time and that they're always ahead of you. If you've tried enough that hasn't worked, trying harder is not often the answer.

If you're seen by the others on the table as someone who plays loose and over-bluffs, the only way to change that image is to call less and choose the hands to showdown with. Unless you expect to walk away in five minutes, you can play the long game and change the success rate of your bluffs by showing others around you better hands and leave an impression of someone who does have strong hands.

This is not to say you should just give up, but that bluffing is connected to a lot of other factors. Do you appear as a player who only bets when you're desperate and have nothing? Do you feel like your opponents sized their bets to bait your bluffs? If you can't answer, maybe it's not the right time for a bluff. If you do want to try your luck, you would also need to know how to react to a raise-back, otherwise you are just giving away free chips. (Imagine doing a x4.5 4bet as SB with A2 suited, only to be met with an all-in raise and the person after him just-calling.)


I think every other "reason to bluff" is a combination of the derivatives of these factors. When you've played enough you can change your play depending on who the flop favors (more good hands on BB size vs yourself), how your opponents are playing, and whether you like the hands you've made and have the chips to make a play, but until you can establish that it is a good play to make, it's often more comfortable to accept you're not winning every hand, not bluff and not over-commit.

For me, when considering whether to bluff (which is mind you, not the bet sizing when bluffing), it doesn't really change much between if the flop is wet or dry, between if your opponents are good players or don't have a good grasp on sizing and puts in a random amount, or if your opponents only have a mediocre hand. Ultimately a bluff is lost money if you can't make everyone else fold & hand is bad. So bluffing when you have good outs (often called semi-bluffs) is a safe thing to do. And as you improve the kinds of bluffs to make can grow alongside you, which is always fun.

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Think of it this way: At any given moment in hand when you bet, your range should contain some amount of value hands (ie. hands that you expect beat your opponent's range), and some amount of bluffs. You don't want to ever be in a spot against an intelligent opponent, where you can only ever have a value hand, nor do you want to only be able to have a bluff in a particular spot. One implication of this is that on early streets, you want to have more bluffs relative to value hands, because otherwise you will not be able to have any bluffs at all on later streets, since some of your earlier bluffs will become give-ups along the way, and others will improve and become value hands.

So, how many bluffs vs value hands should you have? Among other things, this depends on your bet size. The larger your bet size, the more bluffs your range should contain. There is an old forum post by Doug Polk (aka WCGRider) on twoplustwo.com, which I can't find, but from memory it says that assuming a pot sized bet (and making some simplifying assumptions such as your value range always beating villain and your bluffing range always losing if villain calls), you range on the river should be split 50/50 between bluffs and value hands. On the flop IIRC the split should be something like 70/30, with the turn being somewhere in between.

If you can figure out the correct frequencies with which to bluff, the next question becomes selecting which hands to bluff with. The best hands to bluff with are those that have potential to improve to the best hand, e.g. straight draws and flush draws. On certain boards, you range will contain enough of those relative to your value range, that this is all you need. On drier boards that favour your value range, you have to be more creative on order to have enough bluffs. Here, you want to pick hands that have no hope of winning at showdown, and also hands that have backdoor potential (3 to a flush or a straight, ideally both), and/or blockers to your opponent's value range, and/or unblockers to your opponent's bluffing range. Example: On an 8c8s2d flop, a hand like 7d6d is a great bluffing candidate, because it's extremely unlikely to win a showdown unimproved, and it has backdoor straight and flush potential, and it blocks one of two possible combinations of 78 suited, that could give out opponent trips.

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Whenever I win a hand, I almost always bluff the next hand, no matter if I'm holding pocket aces or the worst rags you can be dealt. Gives the table the impression you might be on a hot streak. That scenario would be a great place to start, if you don't normally bluff. Mix up your game, and keep 'em guessing.

Good luck!

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