Bluffing, Semi-bluffing and Value Bluffing

Welcome to this article on bluffing. Within this article, you will learn the importance of bluffing. How and when bluffing should be used, as well as the most profitable bluffs available to you. Combined, this knowledge will enable you to bluff effectively in any game that you play!

Bluffing: The Act of Deception

Bluffing is a word commonly used in our vocabulary, and even non-poker players seem to understand what a bluff is. A bluff is an act of deception. In poker terms, a bluff is when you use aggression and psychology to make your hand look stronger than it is. Doing this can make your opponent fold a better one. It sounds simple, right?

In actuality, bluffing is much more complex than first appears. This is largely due to the nature of No-limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) being a game of more than one street. Put simply; this means that a hand which may be a bluff on the flop, may improve to a better hand by the river. Which may instead become a value bet (for explanation of these terms, please visit our initial betting strategy guide

We can easily see this by using an example:

Bluffing Example:

Hole cards: J♠T♠                     Flop: 9♠8♠4♦              Turn: 2♣         River: 7♣

On the flop, you have just Jack-high. A hand that is unlikely to be the best at this point in time. However, the most significant part of this bluff is that you also have an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw. Hence you have outs. An ‘out’ is when a number of cards can improve your hand such that it is likely better than our opponent’s holding. Thus you can begin to value bet it. In the above scenario you have 15 outs. Any spade gives you a flush (there are nine remaining in the deck), and any 7 or Q gives you a straight (there are 6 remaining in the deck excluding those containing spades).

Why Bluff?

Having explained the basics of what a bluff actually is, take a moment to consider why you are able to bluff in the first place.  Essentially, you can bluff because you have other hands that can bet for value. In order to incentivise your opponent to bluffcatch (call our bluff with marginal hands), you must first bluff. By bluffing, your opponents will begin to bluffcatch more frequently and you can make more money when you have value hands.

Additionally, since your bluffs cannot win the pot you can start to make money with them. This is because your opponents sometimes fold better hands. It is all about getting the balance right. We’ve all been at the table where a maniac can’t help but always bluff and we call with Ace high and win. The opposite is also true, versus someone never bluffing you simply wait for the nuts! Our own reaction to these scenarios demonstrates how you have to get the balance just right. You want your opponent to be unsure whether to call or to fold.

The Importance of Semi-bluffing

This brings us to one of the most valuable parts of any professional poker player’s strategy – the semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is when you aggressively bet your hand as a bluff, however, your hand has outs. This is the most profitable type of bluff that a poker player has in their arsenal.

If we examine the above scenario and assume that your opponent holds A♣A&daims; whilst you have the J♠T♠ we can see that you have 56.26% equity. You win the pot by the river more often than an overpair! The reason it is so profitable is partly due to the equity it has in the pot, but also due to the nature of how the pot grows as the streets progress. The bets you put in on earlier streets whilst your hand is a bluff is smaller than on later streets when you can make the best hand. This means when you hit your outs, a weaker hand can potentially call you and you win a larger pot.

The Counter-intuitive Value-bluff

It is possibly the best feeling in poker when you are bluffing with the best hand and get called by worse. Although a rare occurrence, it does happen! The most common example of which is when you are semi-bluffing some sort of flush draw type hand and get called by a worse flush draw. Let us suppose that you hold A♣T♣ and the flop is 7♣5♣2♥. If you bet as a semi-bluff, there are a range of hands our opponent will call with that you beat, for example J♣9♣ or K♣8♣. In this scenario, although you are bluffing you are in fact also getting value from worse – it’s a win-win situation!

The Stone-cold Bluff

Finally, we come to the stone-cold bluff. You’re holding 27, but you’re sure that your opponent doesn’t have top pair and go for it! This is the stuff that makes poker so exciting. You can win the pot somehow, regardless of what your opponent may have.  The stone-cold bluff is what sets the men out from the boys, nothing is more exhilarating than watching Tom Dwan run a huge bluff for hundreds of thousands only for his opponent to lay down a big hand!

There are many factors that contribute to running a stone-cold bluff, such as live tells (see our live tells and body language guide for more information) which can be a powerful tool for any player to use.

Poker Bluffing and Value Betting

Bluffing Conclusion

Bluffing is an integral part of any poker player’s strategy. Hopefully this article has helped to outline the reasons as to why you bluff. The different types of bluffs available, and the effectiveness of each. I hope that there is something now that you all can apply to your strategy the next time you are at the tables. Good luck!

Patrick Sekinger is from the UK and is an avid poker enthusiast, currently playing both live and online as a professional poker player. Patrick plays all formats of NLHE, however specialises in 100bb cash games and you will find him regularly playing in the small stakes games on Pokerstars.

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