Bluffing Basics & Slowplay Subtlety
I confess. I didn’t fully understand bluffing when I started this journey.
Poker is a very mental game. Beyond understanding the odds and the hands, it’s a lot about the psychological manipulation of those around you. Getting into your opponents’ heads and intentionally leading their thought patterns in this direction or that in order to get a desired reaction. Bluffing is a big part of the manipulation game.
I used to have a pretty basic view of bluffing. While it’s obviously a key element of the game, I first saw bluffing as something a player just decided to do from time to time in order to attempt to steal a random pot. I thought you just pretended you had a great hand when you didn’t and played really strong when you were really weak. It was very one-dimensional and binary. You were either bluffing or your weren’t, and if you were, you had to be committed to the bluff for it to really work, playing the hand to the end.
Now I understand that view is only partially true and that bluffing or more broadly “false play” covers a broad range of actions, both subtle and blatant. These actions, when viewed by others, seem to be “tells” indicating the value you are placing on your hand or the specific cards it contains (or doesn’t contain). In reality, these actions are intended to give nothing but false impressions and are designed to elicit a predictable response from your opponents that gives you a significant advantage.
Let’s talk about some of these false play actions:
Basic Bluff – Much as described above, the basic bluff is betting like you have good cards when you really do not, trying to make your opponents fold. The basic bluff is most effective in NL Holdem games where a player’s entire chip stack is at risk in any given hand. Bluffs are usually best attempted against only one or two other opponents. A basic bluff can be blatant, like betting strongly from the start like you are holding KK, but it can also be more subtle, like making a big bet from a late position when a scare card appears and your opponents are checking hoping for a cheap draw. By betting big on the scare card, you are signalling that you’ve made a good pair or have completed your hand. If your opponents don’t yet have a hand, they are probably not willing to go against your apparent made hand, so they fold.
By No Means Bluff – If the stakes are tiny, don’t ever bother bluffing under any circumstances. You’ll never be able to push anyone off their cards. In fact, nothing you do is likely to affect the other players at all. With micro-stakes, everyone is just playing their cards and if they want to see the river, you’re not going to be able to push them off of any hand, no matter what your bet is. You might as well be invisible. Not the time or place for bluffing.
Pseudo Bluff – This is one of the more subtle false plays available. The flop has just come down. You are betting when you only have a high card hand looking for a draw, but your chances of ending up with a hand on the turn or the river are actually pretty decent. Here’s an example. You are holding KQ suited and the flop comes down with two more low rank suited cards and a third offsuit 10. You currently only have a K high hand, but you’ve got six outs for a high pair and 9 outs to a flush. Pretty good odds. So you are technically bluffing when you bet the flop, but bluffing from a pretty strong position. The Pseudo Bluff.
Slowplay – This is a great tool for your false play arsenal that should always be kept at the ready as the value it delivers can be quite fantastic. In one example of this type of false play, you’re in early position, the flop’s come down and you’ve got the nuts. A couple of players after you are in the hand. You know you are going to win, but you don’t want to scare them off with a strong opening bet. So instead of matching your strong hand with a strong bet, you simply check instead, indicating weakness to your opponents in the hope that this will embolden them to bet up the pot. Ideally, you get them too invested in the hand to want to get out, and then you bet heavily (or go all-in) on the river. It’s a brilliant maneuver for maximizing the value you get from your nut hand. The slowplay can SO pay!
Be sure and tune into the Fish Fry Radio Show and look for me at the following tournament as there’ll be a 5 chip bounty on my head. See you there!
the King of Hearts
I talk about online bitcoin poker from a beginner’s perspective with the goal of demystifying the various poker game forms as well as all aspects of online play, table and lobby etiquette, and anything else related to this space. I’m enjoying spending time with you.
Poker Vocabulary and Abbreviations
Bluff – betting with a weak hand in the hopes of getting an opponent with a better hand to fold
Scare Cards – a community card that may have improved or completed an opponent’s hand
The Nuts – the strongest possible hand in a given situation
Bluff Catcher – a low rank hand that can only win by calling a player who has bluffed
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This will serve as my final column here at SwC Poker. You can continue reading Confessions of a Poker Husband at Medium for now while this column finds a new home.