is the second in a four-part series on bluffing. It's time
to delve into the whys and wherefores of bluffing, and listen
to another tale about one of the great bluffs in poker's storied
should you do about players who bluff some, but not all of
the time? There's no easy answer. Opponents who bluff some
of the time are better poker players than those found at either
end of the bluffing spectrum. Better players, of course, will
be able to keep you guessing about whether or not they are
bluffing. And when you're forced to guess, you will be wrong
some of the time. That's just the way it is.
course, you might be able to pick up a tell and know when
your opponent is bluffing, but that's not too likely in most
cases. The sad truth is that players who keep you guessing
are going to give you much more trouble than predictable opponents.
most low-limit games, players bluff much too often. After
all, when you are playing fixed limit poker all it can cost
is one additional bet to see someone's hand. And the pots
are usually big enough relative to the size of a bet to make
calling the right decision.
an example. Suppose the pot contains $90, and your opponent
makes a $10 bet. That pot now contains $100, and the cost
of your call is only $10. Even if you figure your opponent
to be bluffing only one time in ten, you should call. By calling,
you'd lose a $10 bet nine times, for a loss of $90. Although
you'd win only once, that pot would be worth $100. After ten
such occurrences, you'd show a net profit of $10. As a result,
you could say that regardless of the outcome of any particular
hand, each call was worth one dollar to you.
Threat of Bluffing
threat of a bluff is just as important as a bluff itself.
A good player, one who bluffs neither too often nor too infrequently,
and seems to do so under the right conditions, has something
else going for him too. It's the threat of a bluff. Does he
have the goods or is he bluffing? How can you tell? If you
can't, how do you know what to do when he bets?
answers are not come by easily. And even top-notch players
are not going to have a terrific batting average in most cases.
As a result, the threat of a bluff combined with the bluff
itself, is designed to help a player win some pots that he
would otherwise lose, and to win more money in pots where
he actually has the best hand.
all, if you have the best hand and come out betting, your
opponent won't always know whether you're bluffing or not.
If there's a lot of money in the pot, he'll probably call.
That's the less costly error. After all, if he were to throw
the winning hand away and relinquish a big pot, that's a much
more costly faux pas than calling one additional bet.
and the threat of bluffing go hand in hand. A bluff can enable
a player to win a pot he figured to lose if the hands were
shown down. The threat of a bluff enables a player with a
good hand to win more money than he would if his opponent
knew he never bluffed.
Approach to Bluffing
successful poker player has to adopt a middle ground strategy.
This means that sometimes you'll be called when you bluffed
and lose that bet. Other times you will release the best hand
because an opponent successfully bluffed you out of the pot.
is enjoyable. Just remember that making errors is inevitable
when you deal with incomplete information. One can call too
often or not enough. One can bluff too often or not at all.
And the only way to eliminate errors at one extreme is to
commit them at the other.
cautious players, who never call unless certain of winning,
will avoid calling with a lesser hand, but will often relinquish
a pot they would have won. Players who call all the time will
capture just about every pot they could possibly win, but
will find themselves holding the short straw far too often
when the hands are shown down.
paradox is that good players will make both kinds of errors
some of the time, in order to avoid being a predictable player
at one or the other end of the bluffing-calling spectrum.
all, there's a relationship between risk and reward. If you
are never caught bluffing, you are either the best bluffer
in the history of poker or you are not bluffing often enough.
you are caught almost every time you bluff, you're bluffing
much too frequently. If you call all the time, you will never
lose a pot you could have won, and if you seldom call, your
opponents will learn that they can win by betting and driving
you off the pot unless you have a very strong hand.
after all, is much like mom's advice: "All things in moderation."
There'll be more moderately sage advice next issue, but for
now, here another of poker's more storied bluffs; this one
related by English author Al Alvarex, in "The Biggest Game
In Town," a wonderfully accurate and insightful look at the
World Series of Poker.
Bluffs: Jack Strauss and the Seven-Deuce
late Jack Strauss, who won the 1982 World Series of Poker,
was a man known for his creativity, flair and imagination
at the poker table, as well as his willingness to risk all
he had if he liked the odds. Once, in a no-limit Hold'em game,
Strauss was dealt a seven and a deuce of different suits.
one of the worst starting hands in the deck - one the overwhelming
majority of players would throw away without a moment's hesitation.
But not Strauss; not this time. "I was on a rush," he said,
"so I raised." One player called. The flop was 7-3-3, giving
Strauss two pair, albeit with a kicker that couldn't even
beat the board. As Strauss bet again, he realized he had made
a mistake. His opponent, who did not hesitate as he reached
for his chips, raised Strauss $5,000. Strauss realized his
opponent had a big pair in the hole, and the logical move
would have been to give up the bluff and release his hand.
Strauss called, which must have caused his opponent to question
whether he, indeed, had the best hand. The fourth card was
a deuce. It paired Strauss' other hole card, but it was worthless
since there was already a communal pair of threes on the board.
Strauss fired out a bet: $18,000. As his opponent paused to
consider whether Strauss had a hand or was bluffing, Jack
Strauss leaned forward, saying: "I'll tell you what, just
gimme one of those $25 chips of yours and you can see either
one of my cards - whichever one you choose." After another
long pause, Strauss' opponent tossed over a single green chip
and points to one of the two cards that were face down in
front of Jack Strauss. Strauss flips over the deuce. Now there's
another long pause.
Jack Strauss's opponent concludes that both cards were the
same, and that Strauss made a full house - deuces full of
threes - and throws the winning hand away.
was just a matter of psychology," Strauss was reputed to have
said later. But to most observers it wasn't psychology at
all. It was magic, pure and simple.
to Part 3