Bluff and Pure Bluff
pure bluff is a bet, which, if called, has no chance
of winning in a showdown. A semi-bluff is a bet with
more cards to come which, if called, is probably not
the best hand at the moment but has a reasonable chance
of becoming the best hand.
Many expert players believe their bluffs should have
negative expectation. They see them as a form of advertising
that will lead to their being called on other occasions
when they do have the best hand. However, I believe
pure bluffs should have no worse than zero expectation.
At the same time, I agree that bluffs are an important
part of a player's games. If you never bluff, your
opponents will always know you have a legitimate hand
when you bet. They will be likely to play correctly
on the basis of what you have in your hand, which
is to their advantage and your disadvantage, according
to the Fundamental Theorem of online poker games.
Since it is correct to bluff occasionally so that
you don't give away too much information when you
bet with a legitimate hand, the question is when to
do it. Clearly, you cannot establish a
regular pattern of bluffing. Observant opponents will
soon pick it up, and you will be caught bluffing too
often to make it profitable.
Rather than try to guess when to bluff, especially
against tough players, use your cards to randomize
your play. (See "Bluffing and games Theory.")
In early betting rounds, with more cards to come,
the most convenient and profitable way to use your
cards is to bluff when you have the kind of semi-bluff
hands I have been discussing. Then you are still bluffing
occasionally, you will get all the advertising you
need, but you have the extra advantage of sometimes
winning even when you do get caught.
There are numerous situations where a pure bluff would
not work often enough to be profitable, but where
a semi-bluff is more profitable than simply checking
and hoping to draw out and win in the showdown. Suppose
you are playing $10-$20 hold 'em. After six cards
your hand has fallen apart; you have no win. There
is one more card to come and $60 in the pot. So if
you bet $20 as a pure bluff against a single opponent,
you are getting 3-to-1 for your bet when he folds.
The key question, then, is whether that opponent will
fold often enough to make a bluff profitable in terms
of the pot odds you are getting. Let's say you expect
he will fold 20 percent of the time. That is, he will
call four times out of five and fold once. Thus, the
odds against getting away with a bluff are 4-to-1,
while you are getting only $60-to-$20 or 3-to-1 odds
when you bet. Therefore, the play has negative expectation.
In the long run it is unprofitable. (This is assuming
you give up your bluff when you're called and don't
bet on the encl.)
Now instead of a busted hand with one more card to
come, let's assume you are holding
a hand that you assess as having a 30 percent chance
of winding up the winner - something like, say, a
four-flush and a small pair. Again there i5 $60 in
the pot, and you figure you have a 20 percent chance
of stealing that $60 right there if you come out betting
against a single opponent. Readers should see intuitively
that a semi-bluff bet now turns into a profitable
play. In fact, it is more profitable than simply checking
and hoping to win in the showdown.
To make this point absolutely clear, we'll do some
arithmetic. We'll assume that if you check :after
six cards, your
opponent will check behind you, and we'll ignore bets
on the end on the assumption that you will fold when
you don't make your hand and your opponent will fold
when you do. We'll take 100 identical situations where
you check and hope to draw out and 100 situations
where you make a semi-bluff bet.
Take checking first. With $60 in the pot and a 30
percent chance of winning, you will average winning
$60 30 times for a total of $1,800.
What happens when you bet? Well, since your semi-bluff
has a 20 percent chance of making your opponent fold,
you will average winning $60 immediately 20 out of
the 100 times you try
it for a total of $1,200. Of the 80 times your opponent
calls your bet, you will average winning $80 (the
$60 already in the pot plus the $20 called) 30 percent
of the time and losing your $20 bet 70 percent of
the time. That works out to an $80 win 24 times and
a $20 loss 56 times for a net win of $800. So after
100 identical situations, you will average winning
$1,200 when your opponent folds, plus $800 when he
calls for a total of $2,000, which is $200 more than
you would win by checking. That comes to only $2 per
hand, but it is with such small edges that you increase
your hourly rate and your profits at the end of the
month and the year.
The important thing to notice from this example is
that both a pure bluff by itself and a value bet by
itself would be wrong. Had you bet as a pure bluff,
you would be getting only 3-to-1 odds for a wager
that has only one chance in five of winning. Had you
bet only for value - that is, with the certainty your
opponent will call - you would also be making an incorrect
play since you have estimated that you are a 7-to-3
underdog. You are wagering even money (your $20 bet
for a $20 call) when the odds are 21/3to- 1 against
your winning. However, the combination of the two
possibilities - namely, winning with a bluff or winning
by improving to the best hand - makes a semi-bluff
bet not just a good play but a mandatory one.
Just as a semi-bluff bet can be profitable, so too
can a semi-bluff raise. Suppose in hold 'em you start
and the flop comes
Everybody checks. The next card is the
which gives you a flush draw and an inside-straight
draw (not to mention a straight-flush draw). If someone
now bets, you should raise. Even if that person folds
only 20 percent of the time, the combined possibilities
of winning right there and of making the best hand
when he calls turns raising in this spot into a more
profitable play than just calling. In general, when
there is a possibility of winning the hand right there,
even a slight one, it is important to bet - or raise.
What's more, sometimes when you think you are semi-bluffing,
you are actually betting the best hand.
Another consideration when deciding to semi-bluff
is the size of the pot. The larger the pot, hence
the bigger the pot odds you are getting, the smaller
your chances of getting away with a semi-bluff need
to be to make the play profitable. games theory suggests
the opposite - that you should bluff less with a larger
pot, assuming expert opponents. However, in practice
most players do not adjust their calling strategy
correctly to the size of the pot, which makes both
semi-bluffs and pure bluffs more profitable when the
pot is large.
is the Key to Winning at Poker
biggest mistake players make is to pigeonhole themselves
as a player of a certain limit and game, "I'm
a 5/10 hold'em player," they'll think of themselves.
And they'll play 5/10 hold'em, even though the 3/6
hold'em game right next to them is a much better game.
They'll never realize it because they'll never even
Simply put, a lot of players putting a lot of money
in the pot makes for a good game. If there aren't
a lot of players playing each hand in your game, and
players aren't often calling raises cold in order
to play, then you probably should be walking around
the room to see if you can find a better game than
the one you're in.
Game selection is the key to winning at poker. You
don't win money at poker by being a good player. You
win money by being a better player than the others
at your table. Don't forget this. For this reason,
it's important to learn all the games that are available
to play. If you see a really good Omaha/8 game, you
want to be able to play in it. You don't want to be
shut out of the best game in the room because you
only know how to play hold'em.