If you came here searching for how to improve your bluffing skills, then you’ve probably been caught by opponents more than a few times. While running a successful bluff is rewarding, getting sucked deeper into a pot and then exposed as a fraud is equally frustrating.
Even if you’ve failed in the past, learning the fine art of bluffing is worth the trouble. It can transform a competent player into a card shark with razor-tipped teeth, and the waters of your poker game are sure to run red with the blood of your enemies.
In this article, we’ll look at several methods for improving your bluffing skills. Some are common sense and easy to employ, while others require a certain degree of practice. In either case, I suggest giving each of them a try to see what fits well with your respective playing style.
The Importance of Knowing When to Bluff
While Kenny Rogers sang about the importance of knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, he was less specific about when to bluff. Allow me to clear up any confusion: you should only bluff when you believe there’s a decent chance that your opponents are going to fold. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time (and money).
You’ll gain this wisdom through practice and study, but let’s look at an example to help you along. For the purposes of this example, let’s pretend that you raised pre-flop but missed your cards on the flop. Since you’ve already established to the table that you’re confident in your hand, you can make another wager to fool everyone into thinking that you got the cards you need. Unless they hit a top or middle pair, most sensible opponents are going to bow out at this stage.
Don’t Come Out Bluffing
When you bluff, you’re like a storyteller weaving a complex narrative filled with twists and turns. The more engrossed the other players become with your tale, the more likely they’ll be to fall for your trickery.
Just like any good story, a bluff should hook the listener and slowly build to a crescendo. If you plop down at a table and immediately start spinning your yarn, the other players will have no investment in what’s going on. This makes your bluffs ineffective, especially when compared to a well-laid trap that’s sprung after the rigors of a lengthy tournament begin to set in.
Be patient and lay your traps over time. When the other players have settled into a rhythm, then you can start doing some damage.
Project an Aura of Confidence
When you lie (which is all bluffing really is), it’s important to be able to sell your lie to the rest of the table. Since any great deception begins with the person conveying it, I suggest intentionally buying into the ruse. If you believe in your own lie, then this confidence should be reflected in your face and body language.
This is especially useful for fooling those who like to observe their opponents. Such students of human behavior are harder to trick than the average player, but a confident demeanor can be just enough to sell a falsehood.
Choose Your Victims Carefully
Some players fall for a bluff every time, while others seem entirely immune to the tactic. It’s imperative that you determine which category the players at your table fall into, since this better informs your actions as the game progresses.
Timid players are easy to back off a hand, and this sort of opponent is just a big stack of chips waiting to be fleeced. A more frustrating opponent is the overly aggressive player, as they’ll stubbornly raise anyone almost as a point of pride. While this is a major weakness in the grand scheme, it can play havoc with anyone who’s trying to set up a well-crafted trap.
Walk a Mile in the Opponent’s Shoes
As you play hundreds of poker hands to perfect your bluffing technique, try to step outside yourself and imagine how each opponent must see you. Does a specific action on your part elicit a certain reaction from another player? If so, was the end result positive or negative?
Try to envision your overall posture and table image. Does the opposition view you as a loose player who’s willing to wager on the weakest of hands, or do you have a reputation for clamming up until only the best of hands come your way? By trying to see the world through your opponent’s eyes, you can gain greater insight into your own playing style and spot any weaknesses that might be visible to others.
Some players think that bluffing is easy, but these individuals are either (a) rookies or (b) idiots. There’s a definite art to bluffing, just as there’s an art to fooling a polygraph machine or holding up while being interrogated by the cops. Not only do these feats require courage and a steely determination, but it also helps if you can convince yourself that the lie you’re spinning is actually the truth.
If you can tie all these element together, you’ll become a terror at the poker tables. Every hand should present your opponents with a new dilemma, bringing them one step closer to busting out or going on tilt.
Don’t think of yourself as a guy (or gal) bluffing at a poker table. Instead, imagine yourself as some sort of master trapper in a dark fantasy world. You’re beset by monsters on all sides, and each of these beasts is looking to rob you blind and leave you humiliated. The only defense against these opponents is an arsenal of well-placed traps.
I realize that may sound stupid to some, but there’s nothing wrong with blurring the line between fantasy and reality at the poker table. Not only is it more fun, but it helps boost your confidence and allows you to project a more formidable aura that opposing players are bound to pick up on. Now get out there and slay some monsters.