5 Poker Bluffing Mistakes That Are Costing You Money
Published on March 27, 2018
There are not a lot of better feelings in the game of poker than the feeling you get when you see your opponent’s cards fly into the muck as you’re attempting to pull off a massive bluff. There’s just this feeling of excitement, success, and a total ego boost that is indescribable. Because of this, it’s no secret that Texas hold’em players love to bluff.
The problem, though, is that the majority of recreational and semi-serious players make some massive mistakes when it comes to bluffing. As a successful professional poker player for the past 12 years, I’ve seen a lot. The biggest thing that I see people screw up is bluffing.
What I’d like to do today is go over the top five bluffing mistakes that I see from people time and time again at the tables. You would think that after some time these mistakes would slowly go away, but that’s just not the case. I see the same players make the same mistakes over and over again. What’s nuts is that a lot of these players are serious players with strong aspirations of playing for a living. Some of them even label themselves professionals. Whether I agree with their label or not is another discussion for another day.
If you’re new to the game of poker or you feel like you might be getting in trouble when it comes to bluffing, pay attention to this article. Here are the top five bluffing mistakes that I see and advice on how to prevent yourself from making them.
We can probably blame ESPN and televised poker for this one. You see, when poker was first being televised, they didn’t show you every single hand. Instead, they would show you the most exciting hands of the day. From thousands and thousands of hands, they would pick five or six that they would choose to showcase.
As you might have already guessed, they weren’t showing you the boring hands. They were showing you the wild, over the top hands where people were typically running major bluffs. Every hand they showed was a monster pot. This led new poker fans to think that was how the game worked. You were required to run monster bluffs every hand and try and win the tournament in one hand.
This is simply not an optimal strategy. Realistically, you should be flat-out bluffing very little. You will be semi-bluffing occasionally, but flat out bluffs are rare. How much should you be bluffing? Well, a lot of that is going to be dependent on the table conditions and the flow of the game. The rest of the mistakes and tips in this article should start to give you a better idea of how often you should be bluffing.
The point here is that you should not be bluffing every single hand. Poker is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.
Here’s a phrase that I love to hear from my opponents and hate to hear from any student I’m coaching. “So, I realized I hadn’t played a hand in a while, so I decided to run a bluff.” Ahhhh! My ears are bleeding right now just thinking about it. If you are ever bluffing just for the sake of bluffing, you are destroying your chances of being successful. If you’re ever just randomly picking a hand and saying “Yup, I’m going to bluff this hand,” then you are setting yourself up for disaster.
Bluffs should not be things that you randomly toss into your game for no reason whatsoever. There needs to be a rhyme and a reason for everything you do in poker including bluffing. If you are just bluffing because you’re bored or you think it’s randomly the right time, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and you need to stop. Well, you need to stop if you like winning. If you prefer losing at poker, then bombs away!
What is the purpose of a bluff? If you say the purpose of a bluff is to get your opponent to fold, you are only half right, and therefore in my class, you are wrong. The purpose of a bluff is to tell your opponent a convincing story about what you are holding and get them to fold because they think they are beaten. You see, a lot of people think that bluffing comes down to shoving a ton of chips in the middle as quickly and recklessly as possible in hopes that their opponent will get scared and fold.
This is not what you want to be doing. Read this quote from a student (paraphrased) and let me know if this sounds like you.
The stream of questions I always ask people here go like this. First, I ask them what they were trying to represent. If they say strength and don’t give me a real hand, I usually reach over and smack them in the face. I’m kidding, but I am tempted to. Most people, thankfully, will tell me what hand or range of hands they were attempting to represent. In this situation, the student told me they were trying to represent pocket aces or pocket kings.
I usually say okay and start breaking the hand down. In this situation, I asked them if they would have raised pre-flop to five times their opponents bet with pocket aces or kings? They responded, “Well, no. I probably would have only raised to about three times with pocket aces or kings, maybe more like 1500. I just wanted to show them a lot of strength to get them to fold.”
This is where I usually hope the wheels start to turn in their mind. If you are not doing what you would normally do with the hand you are trying to represent, then you’re doing a terrible job of representing that hand. In this situation, all they were showing was a big bet which is different from showing strength. Their opponent probably saw this bet as a fearful bet that was just trying to get a fold. Would aces or kings try their hardest to get a fold pre-flop? Probably not.
As you can imagine, I continued through the hand with them, and all of the questions went the same. Basically, they tried to do what they thought looked scariest and not what they would have done had they been holding the hand they were representing. By the time we get done with the analysis, they realized that their opponent actually made a pretty good call given the fact that their bets made no sense.
You need to play your bluffs exactly as you would if you were really holding the hand you are representing. The best way to do this is to pretend you are really holding that hand. Imagine that you’re holding two red aces or two black kings. Make your moves accordingly. Your goal should not initially be to get your opponent to fold. Your goal should be to convince them that they are beaten, and then they will fold on their own…as long as you aren’t making the next mistake.
The absolute worst thing that you can do when it comes to bluffing is trying to bluff the wrong person. You can run the most masterful of bluffs that tells the most believable story and can still fall flat on your face if you try it on the wrong opponent.
First, you should never be bluffing opponents who don’t like to fold. If someone has a problem with calling too often, then there is no logical reason to try and get them to fold. Instead, why don’t you just wait until you have a real hand and they will continue their pattern of never folding and pay you off? The same approach will never work on two different types of opponents.
Second, you should never be bluffing opponents who are not good enough to read hands properly. Remember, our goal with bluffing is to make our opponent fold by telling a believable story. If our opponent is incapable of understanding our story, they’re never going to be able to make the fold. It’s a bit of a weird situation because you basically don’t want to bluff opponents that are really bad, but you also then don’t want to be bluffing the best players in the world because they are masters at sniffing out deception.
The ideal candidate for a bluff is a player that is good enough to read hands but is not so good at it that you’re going to get caught. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try and bluff the best in the world. I’m just saying that they’re not going to be the easiest to fool or the most ideal of targets.
Yes, it is. However, you should be trying to steal pots as actively as you can. This means that you should be pushing things to the edge of getting caught. The idea is that if you’re never getting caught, then you aren’t pushing hard enough.
Think of it like this. Let’s say that you’re running a race that requires you to run as fast as you can with a glass of water that is full to the brim. The object of the race is to get to the finish line as fast as you can with as much water still in the glass as possible. The speed at which you finish the race is slightly more important than the amount of water you still have in your glass.
If you get to the end of the race and you still have all of your water in your glass, and you haven’t spilled a drop, you probably weren’t running fast enough. If you get to the end of the race and your glass is empty, then you were probably trying to run too quickly. But, if you get to the end of the race and you’ve lost a little bit of water but not a lot, you probably were pushing yourself to the fastest “safe” speed that you could run.
This is what you’re trying to achieve with bluffing. You want to be stealing as many pots as you possibly can. This means that if you’re never getting caught, you’re probably not pushing the envelope enough and you’re missing opportunities. If you’re getting caught all the time, you probably need to read back through all of these tips because you’re either bluffing too often or doing it poorly.
Additionally, if you never show down a bluff, it’s going to be hard to get paid when you have a real hand. If the other players never see you bluff, they’ll start to assume that you always have a hand when you’re betting. If they see you taking shots with nothing, though, they’re going to be guessing more often and will end up mistakenly calling you down when you have the goods. Bluffing is not just about winning the current hand. It’s about setting up an image that can get you paid down the road.
Hopefully, if you’re making any or all of these mistakes right now, you’re at least aware of them. Now that you’re aware of them, it’s time to put the changes in place that will help you correct them. Bluffing should be a part of your game, but it should never be the centerpiece. Here is a quick recap of the changes you need to make to your poker game today.