This is a preview of my next poker column written for FLUSH magazine.
The best lies are the believable ones...
One of the things I love about presenting Poker Night Live is the contact we have with newcomers to poker when broadcasting our amateur nights. The other evening I received an email from a new player saying, “My game is coming along nicely, but I still don’t know how often I should be bluffing. I feel it’s a real weakness in my game.” Now then… the following announcement is VERY important. There’s no law that says you HAVE to bluff in poker. Bluffing is a skill that bubbles away in the background and should ONLY be used when the situation calls for it. Now I know that was a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS but it’s an important point that needs shouting.
To expand upon “when the situation calls for it” here’s a quick example of rubbish bluffing for the sake of bluffing. Steve gets dealt 7-4 off-suit. It’s a dog of a hand. The blinds and antes are huge and he’s under the gun (i.e. first to act). “I’m all-in!” Steve declares, pushing all his chips in and staring down anyone insolent enough to look at him. He is “Mr Bluff”. He is a warrior. He is a wild card. He is also called by Dave with pocket kings who busts Steve out of the tournament like the chimp he is.
The key thing to remember is that bluffs should occur as a reaction to a situation. They also need to be misleading, not confusing. You don’t want to baffle your opponent; you want to sell them an untrue story that they will believe. Treat bluffing like lying to your wife. When do you do that? Answer: when it will be believable and get you what you want. You’re late home because you were enjoying yourself and didn’t want to leave the pub/footie/mistress. Do you call and say, a) I lost track of time and the tubes are up the spout so I’ll be home late, or b) an eagle stole my trousers and I tripped over playing cricket on Pope Gregory’s yacht in Africa and punctured my spleen?
Remember; misleading, not confusing.
Imagine you have a small random hand and limp into a pot only to see an ace fall on the flop. If no one takes any action before you, making a decent-sized bet yourself is selling the story “I have an ace”. It’s not confusing; it’s a deliberately misleading lie. If people buy into your story, you’ll get what you want (i.e. they fold and you take down a pot that you wouldn’t have won just by playing the cards).
So remember, bluffing isn’t just about making random moves in the hope of scaring people away; it’s about reacting to specific situations, and selling stories to get what you want. Don’t feel you have to bluff to succeed in poker, but realise that others will bluff against you, and it’s a very useful weapon to have in your poker armoury. Oh, and NEVER lie to your wife. She’ll see through it every time, guaranteed.