I know plenty of poker players who obsess about their ability to bluff.
It’s common to hear complaints about the difficulties of bluffing poor players. People have their own opinions about the reasons why, but it is generally harder to bluff a player that has no idea what he’s doing than it is to bluff a guy at your own skill level.
Learning to bluff these players isn’t really about gaining a psychological upper hand – it’s about making as much money as you can from these weaker (but harder to bluff) players.
A Note on Weak Player’s Tendencies
Weak players tend to call more often than they should and chase draws that aren’t profitable. Smart players use these tendencies against their weaker opponents.
Here’re a couple examples of hands where weaker players lose money in the long run.
A weak player limps in from early position with an ace and a seven, unsuited. The flop includes an ace and one of the blinds bets. The weak player calls and a late position pre-flop caller also calls. The weak player doesn’t improve on the turn or river. He calls a bet on the turn and another one on the river. The late position player raises the river bet, the blind calls, and the weak player calls again.
What could the other two players possibly hold that puts the weak player in a position to win this hand? I don’t have a table of statistics at my disposal, but I’d guess that the weaker player has less than a 1% chance of holding a good hand in this scenario.
The most likely scenario is the late position player has an ace with a better kicker, a set, or a straight, or flush if possible. The blind could have anything from an ace with any kind of kicker to two pair or better.
To make more money in the long run the weak player could’ve folded at any point in this hand. His best play was folding before the flop, but even folding on the river saves money in the long run.
In the next example the weak player limps into the pot from late position with the eight and seven of hearts. Unlike the previous hand, limping from late position with a suited connector hand isn’t a bad play as long as you know how to play the hand well after the flop.
The flop includes two hearts and an ace. The weak player calls bets on the flop and turn trying to hit a flush. Depending on the size of the pot and the size of the bets the weak player may have been correct in calling or may be making a mistake.
The biggest problem with the hand for the weak player is even when he hits the flush he can easily lose to a higher flush. He’s almost always behind in the hand until he hits a flush, and then if no one else has a flush he won’t be able to get much action.
He also will have trouble playing the hand when he pairs one of his hole cards. How likely is his hand to be best when he pairs a seven or an eight? Even on a flop with a seven or an eight high he’s likely behind in the hand.
Most of the long term earning power that comes from playing suited connectors comes from hitting straights. The possibility of a flush often helps with pot odds and calls, but flushes don’t make most of your money with suited connectors unless you’re playing aces and face cards.
Using Weakness to Profit
Consider the two examples above. How can you start using the weak player’s tendencies to make more money at the table?
When you hold a strong hand against weak players and a flush draw is possible, you need to bet enough so the weak player doesn’t have the right pot odds to draw to a flush.
They’ll likely draw to it anyway, so you have to make them pay more when they don’t hit a flush.
Any hand that includes an ace on the flop where you have top pair top kicker or better is an opportunity to milk a weak player who played an ace with a weak kicker.
The danger with this play is sometimes the weak player will get lucky and hit two pair. Your strongest play is when you can beat two pair or have the top two pair hand.
Weak players tend to play too many hands, making their average starting hand poorer than good players.
Don’t forget this. You will make more off weak players in the long run just by playing better starting hands, but you can also assign weak players a wider range of possible hands when you’re trying to figure out what they have.
Don’t be surprised when weak players turn over three two suited on a board that includes a couple twos or threes.
Weak players can play any pair, any ace, any suited connectors (even two gap connectors like nine six), and unsuited connectors. If they’re in one of the blinds they may play any two cards.
Weak players are usually passive.
They tend to check and call more than they bet and raise. If a weak player fitting this playing profile starts betting and raising it’s usually a good sign they just hit a nice hand.
Another thing weak players tend to do is bluff too much.
Newcomers have the false impression that good poker players bluff all of the time, and they act accordingly.
We’ve already discussed how hard it is to make weak players fold, but you can bluff them in certain situations. You just need to know when you have the best chance and when you shouldn’t try.
Good players bluff when the situation is set up for it. Good bluffing opportunities tend to have more to do with the opponent and how the hand has played out than anything else.
When a weak player calls bets on the flop and turn after two suited cards are on the flop you may be able to bluff on the river when the flush misses.
Weak players love suited cards and tend to chase flushes to the bitter end. But they fold to a bet on the river almost every time they miss their flush draw. Of course they might be calling with middle pair instead of chasing a flush, but missed flush boards offer chances to bluff weak players.
Another place where weak players can be bluffed is when the board pairs. If a flop has a pair or when the turn or river pair the board the weak player can be lead to believe you just hit trips. Don’t continue with the hand if the weak player calls your bluff or raises. The weak player may be the one who just hit trips.
Don’t concentrate too much on how to bluff weak players. Instead focus on learning how to use their weaknesses to make as much money as possible. Weak payers don’t like to fold and they chase hands when they shouldn’t. Use these playing tendencies to beat them at the table.