Learning the art of successful bluffing in poker isn’t easy, as it requires careful study and hours of real-life experience. When executed properly, a bluff misleads your opponent in whatever direction you want. Otherwise, your fellow players may only be confused or, in the worst case scenario, see right through your ruse.

Of course anyone can bluff, but learning to be a long term successful bluffer is where the real money is.

You can succeed at poker without constantly relying on misdirection, but bluffing is an integral part of the game for serious players. If you always fold weak hands, you run the risk of becoming predictable. It’s impossible to win against skilled opponents if you’re predictable.

This page covers the basics of how to bluff in poker. It includes information about the most common ways to fool your opponents. I also talk about the unique challenges faced by online sharks.

The Importance of Bluffing

The threat of a bluff and an actual bluff are both important elements of poker. If you’re known to occasionally engage in deception, it can create indecision on the part of your opponent and allow you to win pots that might otherwise elude you. The same rule applies to an actual bluff, enabling the player to capture a pot with a below-average hand.

Key Elements

The most important elements to a good bluff are creating the illusion of strength and the ability to find an opponent with a weak hand. The two of these combined are almost unstoppable, but even one makes for a formidable player.

Tips for Running or Spotting a Bluff

If you want to conduct a successful bluff or spot someone else who’s trying to do the same, pay attention to the following:

  • Never try to bluff more than two opponents. The more players in a pot, the more chances there are that someone will stick around. It is usually a poor choice to bluff in any situation that is not heads up.
  • Know your opponents’ tendencies. Players usually fall into one of the following categories: straightforward, habitual bluffer, or sporadic bluffer. That last category is the most difficult to compete against, as it’s harder to predict their actions.
  • Inexperienced players can be the most frustrating to bluff against, as they don’t know enough about the game to fold. There are also the annoying rookies who’ll call anything just to “keep people honest.” But when you learn who these players are you also know that they will pay off your strong hands and that you never bet into them with your weak hands. They can be very profitable once you learn these tendencies.
  • If all signs point to your opponent having a strong hand, don’t try to run a bluff. They are unlikely to budge, and you’ll wind up losing more money that you should have.
  • With a pure bluff, your hand has no chance of winning unless all the opposition folds. Semi-bluffs are better, as these initially weak hands have the possibility of improving as the community cards are revealed. You may still be able to drive everyone out of the pot, but you might not be hopelessly outmatched if someone decides to hang around. I cover this in more depth below.
  • Late position is better for bluffing, as it gives you a chance to see how your opponent reacts before committing to a decision. Of course, bluffing from an early position can also catch everyone off-guard.
  • Don’t bluff just because you’re bored or haven’t used the tactic in a while. There should always be a reason for doing so, whether it’s to win a pot or set a player up for later in the game.
  • Wager the least amount of money possible in order to get your opponent to fold. If they haven’t hit their hand, 50% of the pot is normally enough to do the trick. Going higher can put you in a precarious position, especially if the other player doesn’t bite.
  • Watch for strange betting patterns. This could be an indication that they’ve got a weak hand and are attempting to bluff.
  • When possible, your bluff should tell a story. If it looks like you have a flush draw and this is accompanied by several calls, it’s more believable when you suddenly raise after the river card. This gives the impression that you hit your flush, and it increases the odds of forcing the opposition to fold.

The Semi Bluff

The semi bluff is one of the most powerful bluffs you will see at the poker table, and it’s the first one that newer players learn to use. A semi bluff is when you are probably behind in the hand but have a good chance to improve enough to win the hand when you are called.

Here’s an example of a strong semi bluff. You’re in late position and call with a suited KQ. There are two early position players who see the flop as well.

The flop comes A, Q, 7 with the Ace and 7 matching your suit. You have second pair with a draw to the nut flush.

The range of hands you are likely facing that may give you action are a pair of aces, a straight draw, a lower flush draw and the slim possibility that someone has flopped a set.

The good news is that the only hand that you are in huge trouble against is the set, but even if an opponent is holding one you have a re-draw to a flush. You are behind a pair of aces, but you can hit a flush, two pair or one of the remaining queens so you have a good number of outs.

Continuing with play in the above example, the first player bets and the other opponent folds their hand, leaving the action on you. You’re in a strong position here and can either call or raise. Because this is a section about semi bluffing, we’re going to talk about a situation where you can use this method.You know that the player who bet wouldn’t bet from early position without at least top pair, so you’re almost 100% sure you are behind at this point.

This is the perfect place for a large semi bluff. Even if you get called you have a strong chance to win the hand, but if the early position player is fairly good they will lay down just about anything but a set here enough times to make the play profitable.

When deciding whether or not to use a semi bluff it is helpful to try to determine how often it needs to work in order to be profitable.

Getting Caught Bluffing on Purpose

Believe it or not, sometimes you want to get caught bluffing. This usually happens when you have been running strong and the other players have stopped giving you action. They’re convinced that you’re always holding the nuts so they aren’t even giving you action much before the flop.

Of course you can continue with this illusion as long as it is profitable for you, but when you can’t build a big pot it can be tough to turn a good profit for the session. When this happens, it’s a perfect time to loosen the table up a little bit by making a small bluff and either getting called or showing it if it works.

Most strategy information books and advice tell you to never share information with the other players that you don’t have to, so they would say never to show a bluff.

But if a table is too tight you can use this tactic every once in a while to try to get more action. Your other option is to find a looser table.

Bluffing Online

In real-life games, you can listen to your opponent, watch his or her body language, and examine his or her tendencies. When playing online, only one of these options is available. That makes the art of the bluff difficult for Internet players, although it can still be managed with careful observation.

Even after folding a hand, pay attention to the other players to pick up on habits. For example, see how often a player bets on the flop, turn, and river. Does he or she do this more with a strong hand or when they are bluffing? How about when they check the flop, bet the turn, and then raise on the river?


The art of bluffing in poker is a unique ability, combining equal parts skill and gut instinct. Trying to fake out your opponents is bound to catch up with you on occasion, but it remains a valuable weapon in the arsenal of any serious player. Just remember that, like any skill, it has to be honed through hours of trial-and-error experimentation. Reading this article is not enough, although it’s a step in the right direction.

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