Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2005.
This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 62: Know when to bluff
Today we’re going to discover some important clues about when to bluff. It’s important to make the right decisions about bluffing. And you should only attempt a bluff under the right conditions.
Random is unprofitable
Mike points out that usually you don’t want to bluff players, because they have a tendency to call too often. So, if you have an opponent who is doing a great deal of calling, he isn’t the one you want to try to bluff. Mike says you shouldn’t bluff at random as that is a prime way to toss away your money. Random bluffing is an unprofitable way to bluff.
There are times to bluff and times not to — and we need to understand when those times are. Mike instructed me that there are three things to remember when you’re trying to bluff. First, in games with exposed cards, your hand needs to look threatening in order to bluff. As an example, with seven-card stud, if your four cards showing are unpaired and look uncoordinated, you’re not going to have any luck bluffing with them. Your opponents are looking for a reason to call, and you’ve just given them that reason – your hand looks suspiciously weak.. If you wish to attempt a successful bluff, your cards need to look strong and intimidating.
Another factor that is often ignored is that if your exposed cards look weak, then it’s not going to look bad if your opponent calls. He wants to call, and he can do so without embarrassment, because your strength isn’t obvious. He fears ridicule if he calls and loses against a strong looking hand. “What did you think you were going to see?” an opponent might say.
Secondly, you shouldn’t try to bluff players who are irritated at losing, as they are already suffering and won’t feel anymore pain if they get in any deeper. Once they are back to even and in a more sensible frame of mind, you can consider bluffing.
Mellow and cheerful
The opponents that you do want to consider bluffing are the ones who have recently been behind and have just gotten even. They don’t want to “get buried” again. If you are friendly with an opponent, then it’s going to be easier to bluff him. A prime time to bluff is when you’ve been joking with a player or making friendly conversation, like talking about sports or about their children. It’s less painful to lose a pot to a friend. Friends can bluff friends.
You also want to consider bluffing opponents who’ve been playing sensibly and care about their money. Players who care can often be bluffed; players who don’t care can seldom be bluffed. It’s really that simple.
So, the three conditions Mike looks for before attempting a bluff are: (1) Your hand or your situation must seem threatening; (2) Your must actually have seen your targeted opponent fold hands in previous bluffing situations; and (3) The target must be playing sensibly. “Unless all three of those conditions are true,” Mike says, “you should seldom try to bluff.”
That seems to me to be a pretty important secret because I’m sure that you have, as have I, attempted to bluff just because it felt right at the time. I didn’t stop to consider whether it was the right time to bluff or not. I wasn’t aware that there were certain conditions that needed to be met before attempting to bluff. Now I understand much better why bluffing at random is a losing proposition.
It seems that bluffing needs to be as carefully considered as calling or betting. The right ingredients have to be there to make it work.
Remember, your cards need to look threatening, your opponents should be mellow and comfortable, and they should be playing sensibly. You don’t ever want to randomly bluff.
So, now you and I have a method for knowing when to bluff. — DM