Brunson: You shouldn’t take a bluff personally

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

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 and, 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.

Doyle Brunson

I’m sure a lot of readers have heard that old poker joke about the kid who writes home from college: “Dear Mom, please send more money, ‘cause nobody’s gonna bluff ME!”

It was worth a chuckle the first few times I heard it, but then I realized in was really a sad story. Many players take being bluffed too personally – and too seriously. That’s strange, because bluffing is a necessary element in any form of poker. If you’re in a game without the possibility that a wager represents a bluff, you’re playing something besides poker.


Bluffing is just another piece of the poker puzzle, like betting a strong hand or calling a big bet. Why would you consider any wagering action in poker to be a personal assault? It’s all just part of the game, and you need to learn to take everything in stride – including being bluffed out of a pot now and then. Remember, if you can’t be bluffed, that means you’re going to call every bet – and that means you’re sure to lose.

I’m reminded of a story I related in a book about Winky and the Weasel, which were their nicknames.

I guess you could describe Winky’s personality as reflective and quiet. The Weasel, on the other hand, was high strung and didn’t like to be messed with. On this particular night long ago, poker wasn’t peaceful. There had been squabbles from the first deal, some near-fistfights, and cards had been thrown during temper tantrums of several occasions. No sir, poker wasn’t pretty tonight.

Play like a man

Entering the game is a young salesman who soon bluffs the Weasel out of a pot and shows the hand. The Weasel takes this bluff very personally and shouts that the young player should “play like a man!” And the Weasel swears to get even. However, in his complete loss of composure, the player he “gets even” with a few hands later is Winky, whom he bluffs out of a pot. His primary target had been the salesman, who had folded early, leaving Winky to call several rounds of betting and then fold on the final round.

As soon as Winky folded, the Weasel showed his hand, easing his ego that earlier had been wounded – though not by Winky. And Winky realized he had been caught in the crossfire of someone else’s war. So, he thought about the situation calmly as was his nature. Then, also quite calmly, he declared, “Well, Weasel, I guess I’ll have to get even with you before the night’s over.” He said it not as a harsh threat, but as a declaration of what he reluctantly thought was his proper duty.

Even the score

The Weasel became rattled. He kept calling Winky the rest of the night – and losing. But I never saw Winky try to even the score by bluffing, as we all had expected. So, after the game, I said to Winky, “I thought you said you were going to get even with the Weasel.”

“Doyle, I did get even,” he laughed. “I did it by not bluffing.” Suddenly it made a lot of sense.

It’s surprising how many players take bluffs personally. Also, when they bluff another player, they’re expecting retaliation. So they call and call. That can be an expensive mistake if that retaliatory bluffs never happen.  — DB

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