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Chapter 8: Bluffing
These answers donâ€™t come easily, and even top-notch players are not going to have a terrific batting average in most cases. As a result, the threat of a bluff combined with the bluff itself, is designed to help a player win some pots that she would otherwise lose and to win more money in pots where she actually has the best hand.
After all, if you have the best hand and come out betting, your opponent wonâ€™t always know whether youâ€™re bluffing or not. If thereâ€™s a lot of money in the pot, sheâ€™ll probably call. Thatâ€™s the less costly error. After all, if she were to throw the winning hand away and relinquish a big pot, thatâ€™s a much more costly faux pas than calling one additional bet.
Bluffing and the threat of bluffing go hand in hand. A bluff can enable a player to win a pot she figured to lose if the hands were shown down. The threat of a bluff enables a player with a good hand to win more money than she would if her opponent knew she never bluffed.
The Bluffing Paradox
A successful poker player has to adopt a middle-ground strategy. This means that sometimes youâ€™ll be called when you bluffed and lose that bet. Other times you will release the best hand because an opponent successfully bluffed you out of the pot.
Neither scenario is enjoyable. Just remember that making errors is inevitable when you deal with incomplete information. One can call too often or not enough. One can bluff too often or not at all. And the only way to eliminate errors at one extreme is to commit them at the other.
Very cautious players, who never call unless certain of winning, avoid calling with a lesser hand, but often relinquish a pot they would have won. Players who call all the time win just about every pot they can possibly win, but find themselves holding the short straw far too often when the hands are shown down.
The paradox is that good players make both kinds of errors some of the time to avoid being a predictable player at either end of the bluffing-calling spectrum. After all, thereâ€™s a relationship between risk and reward. If you are never caught bluffing, you are either the best bluffer in the history of poker or you are not bluffing often enough. If you are caught almost every time you bluff, youâ€™re bluffing much too frequently.
If you call all the time, you will never lose a pot you could have won, and if you seldom call, your opponents will learn that they can win by betting and driving you off the pot unless you have a very strong hand.
Bluffing, after all, is much like momâ€™s advice: â€śAll things in moderation.â€ť
Part II: Advanced Strategy
Famous bluffs: Jack Straus and the 7-2
The late Jack Straus, who won the 1982 World Series of Poker, was a man known for his creativity, flair, and imagination at the poker table, as well as his willingness to risk all he had if he liked the odds. Once, in a No-Limit Hoid'em game, Straus was dealt a 7 and a 2 of different suits.
That starting hand is one of the worst in the deckâ€”one the overwhelming majority of pjay-ers would throw away without a moment's hesitation. But not Straus; not this time. "I was on a rush," he said, "so I raised."
One player called The flop was 7-3-3, giving Straus two pair, albeit with a kicker that couldn't even beat the board. As Straus bet again, he realized he had made a mistake. His opponent, who didn't hesitate as he reached for his chips, raised Straus $5,000. Straus realized his opponent had a big pair in the hole, and the logical move would have been to give up the bluff and release his hand.
But Straus called, which must have caused his opponent to question whether he, indeed, had the best hand. The fourth card was a 2. It paired
Straus' other hole card, but it was worthless since there was already a communal pair of 3s on the board.
Straus fired out a bet: $18,000. As his opponent paused to consider whether Straus had a hand or was bluffing, Straus leaned forward, saying: â€śI'll tell you what, just gimme one of those $25 chips of yours and you can see either one of my cards â€” whichever one you choose."
After another long pause, Straus' opponent tossed over a single green chip and pointed to one of the two cards that were face down in front of Straus. Straus flipped over the 2. Now there was another long pause.
Finally Straus's opponent concluded that both cards were the same, and that Straus made a full house â€” 2s full of 3s â€” and threw the winning hand away.
"It was just a matter of psychology," Straus was reputed to have said later. But to most observers it wasn't psychology at all. It was magic, pure and simple.
Not Alt Bluffs Are Created Equal
Not all bluffs are the same. Some work better in one situation that others, so letâ€™s look at the various kinds of bluffs and distinguish between them.
Bluffing on the end With a hopeless hand
This is the classic bluff of movie lore. Youâ€™re up against an opponent or possibly two of them. You have a hopeless hand. Perhaps itâ€™s a straight draw that didnâ€™t materialize. Maybe itâ€™s a busted flush draw.