Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
Something that can destroy a bankroll in a hurry is bluffing for the wrong reasons. Bluffing successfully can be gratifying. But it can also be addicting. And I’ve seen an addiction to bluffing humble the proudest of players.
I remember playing in a private club in Corpus Christi Texas about 1971. Now, there were seldom any onlookers in poker games back then, but there were a few at this game – mostly attached to Kelly. His wife was there, as were several of his friends. They actually cheered whenever he won a pot, something that is more commonplace today with the wide exposure of big-league poker, but seemed peculiar back then.
It was no limit hold ’em and I held 6-5 suited before the flop. The pot was $330 and Kelly attacked it with a $5,000 raise. Well, of course, I folded. And Kelly smirked and showed me his meager 9-8, receiving applause from his gallery. In cases like that, it doesn’t make sense trying to bolster your ego by saying, “you had the best hand,” as so many amateur players are inclined to do. Your opponent probably won’t believe you, and nothing is accomplished, even if he does. Just buckle down and wait. When players are over-betting in an attempt to impress people, just let them succeed most of the time. When they fail, they’ll fall flat and hard. Just wait for it to happen.
I guess it’s the thrill of getting away with a bluff that makes a player want to saddle up and go for that same dangerous ride again and again. It’s exhilarating when the horse stays on that narrow path along the cliff. But one false step at the wrong time and you tumble over the edge. Bluffing in no-limit poker is exactly like that.
An hour later, I had A-K, bet $2,000, and was called by Kelly. The flop was excellent for me: 4-A-K, giving me the two biggest pair. I made a small bet, hoping Kelly would bluff back at me with a large raise. And that’s what happened. I responded to his $12,000 raise by moving him all-in. He appeared stunned and hopeless, and he actually turned white. I’d heard that expression before, about a person’s skin turning pale with terror, but I’d never actually seen a player turn white in a poker game until then.
Kelly hadn’t learned a necessary lesson in poker: Always let good sense, never ego, be your guide. He fumed and then folded. He had demonstrated the first terrible reason to bluff: Pride.
His composure diminished, he finally got himself caught in another pot against a different player. When it was clear he couldn’t win and was going to be left desperately short of chips, he fired the last of his stack into the pot in a futile quest to survive. He didn’t.
Kelly had demonstrated the second terrible reason to bluff: Panic.
His wife walked away with him in silence, his friends following farther behind than seemed necessary. It was a pitiful exit. And it was totally unnecessary.
The three most usual reasons that players bluff are what I call the three P’s: Pride, Panic, and Profit. Only Profit makes sense to me. — DB