The Bluffer’s Guide to Bluffing

min read
BetMGM Aug 24, 2022, 8:16 AM

You’ve probably seen the moment in the greatest poker movies where the players’ eyes meet, the one player looks at his cards﹣they’re not great﹣yet the player lies and he puts down his cards. You may have also found out that a player with a very weak hand managed to pull off a win in an online poker game that you played in, claiming a pot that was worth far more than the cards that they held, purely through confident play.

In poker, this is what we call bluffing, and it’s an essential strategy if you want to learn how to win tournaments. This act of deception is something that even beginners think they can easily achieve; however, getting an experienced player to fold through bluffing isn’t as easy as you’d imagine.

There are a number of things to consider if you want to make your bluff successful in live poker tournaments. This includes the people you’re playing against, the cards that have been played, your position, your hand, and how big the bet is. We’ll go through all of these in more detail below. But before we do, we’ll also look into the different types of bluffing and how to pick up whether someone at your table is attempting to deceive you.

The different types of bluffing

Firstly, it’s important to understand what bluffing is. Simply put, bluffing is a play of deception that you use to make your weak hand seem strong, which in turn tricks opponents into believing that their strong hand is actually weak.

There are three different types of bluffs used in poker:

  • Quick bluffs: This is the most common bluff that you are going to encounter. This is generally when the pot is only small to medium-sized and no one has a great hand or is particularly interested in playing the hero to win it. Most players in this situation will fold and you’ll be able to get your hands on some money.

  • Semi bluffs: This is a bluff that happens when you’re called and you have cards that have some sort of value. Essentially you could win the game legitimately in a number of ways, but ideally, you’d like your opponents to fold so that you can get the pot sooner rather than later.

  • Stone cold/total bluffs: These are the types of bluffs that you’ve seen in the movies and some memorable poker games; there’s absolutely no way you can win the pot with the cards that you have and you can only win by getting your opponent to fold. This is not used as often as you might think and you’ll need to have your best poker face on if you want to be anywhere near successful.

Learn how to bluff

Bluffing can seem simple to beginners; how hard can it be to keep a straight face and lie about your cards? The truth of the matter is that it’s often a lot harder than you’d expect, and is something that has to be practiced again and again to become reasonably effective. Here are some poker bluffing tips to get your bluffing game on point.

It’s all about how people perceive you

Female hands looking at cards on poker table

When you’re at a poker table, one of the most important things that you need to do is cultivate the ideal image. Being able to shift the way people think of you is undoubtedly the most important part of a poker bluffing strategy. If you call whenever you can and enter a lot of hands, then your bluffs aren’t going to gain much traction. You need to be able to convince people that you aren’t always going to dive in headfirst. However, a tight, aggressive game where you take control of the pot is likely to put more players on the back foot and convince them that you are someone who isn’t bluffing, even when you are. 

Your table position

Your position is where you are stationed at the table and it plays a big part in how successful your bluff will be. The early position is the one that is directly to the left of the dealer and that player must go first. A late position is one of the last few or the very last players who get to play that round.

In general, having an early position isn’t ideal, as it means that you’ll be unable to see what cards are played during the round and how people react before you bluff, and this makes it easier for opponents to call you out. The late position enables you to see the cards played and to see if there are any telltale signs of bluffing from other players.

However, bluffing in an early position can sometimes work, merely because more sophisticated players wouldn’t expect you to.

History of the hands

Casino client poker player making bet with all chips

Always remember that a good player will watch your game and study your hand meticulously. Bets are part of an ongoing narrative and you need to follow along with it if you are to be believed. If your bets have been weak up to a point and you suddenly bet on the river (the last card dealt), it’s unlikely that your opponent is going to believe you, as up until now, there were no indications that you had a flush draw.

Your hand

As already mentioned, a total or stone-cold bluff takes practice and can easily fail. It’s important that you consider the strength of your hand when deciding on how to bluff. If you have a hand that can be improved, then a semi-bluff is going to be more successful than a total bluff.

Sizing your bets

It’s essential to size your bets appropriately, especially when you are just starting out. Bet just enough to be convincing; analyze the size of the pot and then ensure that you strike the right balance with your bet. Too low and you’ll get called just to see what hand you have. Too high and you’ve got a lot to lose.

Knowing when to fold

Playing cards in poker

It’s here that the Kenny Rogers song The Gambler is particularly relevant: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away …” It’s important if you are going to get into playing poker, that you know when it’s not worth raising the bet. You aren’t always going to win and sometimes it’s better to fold and walk away than to put more money into the pot and try to bluff your way to winning.

Learning how to read your opponents

The truth is that all but very experienced players actually know how to bluff properly. If you play poker at a live casino online or in person, this gives you the opportunity to figure out if people are bluffing and get yourself an edge on them by identifying their “tells.” 

A tell is a physical sign that indicates that someone is lying. Look for fidgeting hands, chip shuffling, or anything else unusual that might indicate that they are bluffing. Pay attention to body language throughout the game and you could pick up some important opposition tells. The time your opponent takes to bet could also be indicative of whether they are bluffing. If they take a long time then they may be struggling. However, don’t fall for this every time as people use it to make you believe that they are bluffing when they aren’t.

Online poker and bluffing

If you play poker online, then you’ll know there’s a lot less pressure to know how to bluff when opponents can’t actually see you. In fact, time taken to bet is probably the biggest indicator of a bluff in an online game as opposed to the live table version.

Enjoy online poker and more at BetMGM

If you’re new to poker, then online tournaments and regular online games are a great way to learn how to play the game without having to always have your new poker face at the ready. At BetMGM, we have live tournaments and online poker tables that have all the excitement of the real deal and that you can play within the comfort of your own home. 

Register at BetMGM to enjoy an evening in with our variety of online casino games, including other casino table games like blackjack, roulette and more, as well as sports betting options.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.