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Bluffs When There are More Cards to Come

When there are more cards to come, your bluffs should rarely be pure bluffs - that is to say, bets or raises that have little or no chance of winning if you are called, even taking into account the cards you may get on future rounds. Instead your early-round bets should be semi-bluffs, those powerful, deceptive plays. It is important to bluff occasionally on early rounds to keep your opponents off-balance. But why do it when you have only one or two ways of winning? For a pure bluff to work, your opponent or opponents must generally fold immediately. However, semi-bluff has three ways of winning. It may win because your opponent folds immediately, and it may also win either because you catch a scare card that causes your opponent to fold on a later round or because you make the best hand.

Nevertheless, while you should usually restrict your early-round bluffs to semi-bluffs, there is still nothing to prevent you from trying a pure bluff if you feel there's a good chance of getting away with it. If you think your chances of getting away with it are greater than the pot odds you are getting, then you should go ahead and try it. Ante structure we mentioned playing in a game where certain players played too tight for the ante. There was $10 in antes, and if these players were the only ones in the pot, I knew I could bet $7 with absolutely nothing and have a good chance of stealing that $10. My pot odds in that instance were less than 1/2 to - 1, but I knew I could get away with the bluff about 60 percent of the time. So it was a profitable play.

If you do make a pure bluff on an early round and someone raises you, don't try to tough it out. You've been caught. Since you have no out, you don't even have to think about continuing. Give it up, and get on with the next hand.

When you bluff with more cards to come, you often get called, and then you are faced with deciding whether or not to continue the bluff on the next round. Thus, when you bluff with a hand that probably can't improve to the best hand, you need to compare your chances of getting away with it to your effective odds if you are planning to continue betting on future rounds even when you don't improve.

For instance, if there is $100 in the pot in a $10 - $20 games with two cards to come, you may have to bluff twice. If you think you will bluff twice, you are risking $40 to win $120 - the $100 in the pot plus the $20 your opponent calls on the first round. So when you make that first $20 bet, you cannot think you are getting 5-to-1 from the pot. Rather you are getting 3-to-1 ($120-to-$40). For the play to be profitable, there must be a better than 3-to-1 chance your opponent will fold after the second bet. This is especially true of pure bluffs where you have no way of winning by improving to the best hand.

Deciding whether to continue with a semi-bluff really depends on how the next card affects your chances and how your opponent's card seems to have affected his. Each individual round should be evaluated separately. Suppose you make a semi-bluff raise in seven-card you get called by a 9. Whether you should give up the bluff on the next round depends on what you catch, what your opponent catches, and also what kind of player your opponent is. If with your A,K,5 you proceed to catch a queen suited with the king and your opponent catches a deuce, you ought to bet again; but if your opponent catches, let's say, an 8 suited with the 9 and you catch a 3, give it up. Check, and if your opponent bets, throw the hand away. Your chances have not improved, and it looks as if your opponent's have. He may have a flush draw, a straight draw, or simply a pair of 9s, but whatever he has, he looks like too much of a favorite for you to call when he bets.

It takes experience to know when to give up on a bluff and when to pursue it. When your first bet is called, presumably your opponent has something. If you sense he's getting stronger and you don't improve, give it up. If you sense he's weak and staying weak and if you think he thinks you're strong, continue the bluff and hope to drive him out.

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