is the third of our four-part series on bluffing: a look into
the history and mystery of the bluff, along with another tale
that's right up there with the great bluffs in poker's storied
All Bluffs Are Created Equal
all bluffs are the same. Some work better in one situation
that others, so let's look at the various kinds of bluffs
and distinguish between them.
on the End with a Hopeless Hand
is the classic bluff of movie lore. You're up against an opponent,
or possibly two of them. You have a hopeless hand. Perhaps
it's a straight draw that didn't materialize. Maybe it's a
busted flush draw.
the hands were to be shown down, you know you couldn't possibly
win. So you bet. "Nothing ventured," you think to yourself,
"nothing gained." If you're bluff is called, you'll lose a
bet you would have saved had you checked. But checking, of
course, is tantamount to relinquishing your opportunity to
win the pot.
you bet, there's always the chance that both your opponents
will fold. If you're not called, you'll win the entire pot.
Suppose that pot contains $100 and the cost to bet is $10.
Your bluff doesn't have to succeed all of the time - or even
most of the time - for it to be a good decision.
If it fails nine times and succeeds only once, you will still
be a winner in the long run. You'll have lost an extra $10
nine times, or $90, but you will win $100 on one occasion,
for a net win of $10.
Not a spectacular profit, perhaps, but enough to prove that
bluffs only have to succeed every now and then to be worthwhile.
Hidden Benefits of Getting Caught
won't succeed all the time. Observant opponents will notice
when you are caught bluffing. Once others realize that you
do not have a legitimate hand each time you bet, your good
hands will attract more calls than they would if you left
your opponents with the impression that you never bluffed
That's one of the benefits of bluffing. Not only will you
be able to steal a pot every now and then, but a failed bluff
or two will serve as potent advertising. As a result, a player
who bluffs every now and then can expect to make more money
on his good hands too.
with More Cards to Come
that you're playing hold'em and you raised before the flop
with Kh Qh, and two other players call. Suppose the flop is
Jc 6h 4h. If you come out betting on the flop, you have any
number of ways to win this pot. Your opponents could fold,
and you'd win right there. But even if one or both call, you
certainly shouldn't mind. After all, any of the nine hearts
in the deck will complete your flush. Moreover, any of the
three kings or three queens will give you a pair that is probably
superior to whatever your opponents are holding. In addition,
there are three tens in the deck (exclusive of the 10h, which
completes your flush) that will give you a straight draw.
lot of good cards are in that deck, and you are rife with
potential. When you couple the chances of making the best
hand on the turn or the river with the possibility that your
adversaries will fold if you bet, you are probably an odds-on
favorite to win the pot one way or another.
you bluff with more cards to come, you usually have two ways
to win. The bluff might succeed on its own merits, causing
an opponent to lay down the best hand. In addition, you might
catch the card you need on a succeeding round and actually
make the winning hand. Poker players call this semibluffing,
a term coined by noted poker theorist, player, and author,
stated, a semibluff is a bet made on a hand that is probably
not the best hand at the time of the bet, but has the possibility
of improving to that status. If the bet causes everyone else
to fold, it succeeds as a bluff; if it does not, the hand
might still improve on future rounds. The chances that the
bluff will succeed on its own merits coupled with the chances
of the hand improving are what make the semibluff such a strong
with more cards to come is a better idea when you have a couple
of ways to win. When you bluff with a hopeless hand and there
are more cards to come, you'll usually cost yourself money
in the long run. Since bluffing only works when used judiciously,
you're better off restricting your bluffs to opportunities
where you have a couple of ways to win: your bet causes your
opponent to release his hand, or he calls and you still have
an opportunity to win by catching the card you need to make
the best hand.
a very strong hand in order to lure your opponents into a
trap is the flip side of betting a hopeless hand. A reverse
bluff, when it works, will cause your opponent to do the betting
for you. In fact, he will generally be wed to his hand until
you snap him off with a well-timed checkraise.
one did this better than Johnny Chan; and no one did it under
more daunting circumstances. Read on, and see how Johnny Chan
reverse-bluffed Erik Seidel at the World Series of Poker.
It was a big, gutsy bluff. But the rewards were big too: a
second consecutive world championship.
Bluffs: Johnny Chan versus Erik Seidel
this "reverse" bluff, Johnny Chan bluffed Erik Seidel into
thinking he held the best hand, lured him into betting, and
won a $1,600,000 pot during the final stages of the 1988 World
Series of Poker.
had won the World Series the previous year and had been on
a roll ever since. Here he was 12 months later, with a chance
to win back-to-back titles. But he'd need some magic to accomplish
it. Seidel, a former commodities broker from New York City
left Wall Street for the life of a professional poker player,
and now he had a big chip lead on the defending champ.
this point in the tournament, the blinds were $10,000 and
$20,000. Chan called Seidel's big blind, making the pot $40,000.
The flop was Qs 10d 8d. Seidel bet $50,000. Chan called. The
turn card was a complete blank, and both men checked. The
fifth and final card was another blank. Chan checked.
Seidel held a queen in his hand, giving him top pair, albeit
with a weak kicker. He thought for a moment that Chan might
have a queen with a better kicker. But by checking on the
turn and on the river Chan passed up his final chance to bet!
Seidel then pushed all of his chips into the center of the
table, certainly a sizable enough bet to cause Chan to release
any slightly better hand in the event that Seidel had misread
him. Seidel thought his all-in bet would prevent Chan from
calling with hands such as a queen with a better kicker, or
two small pair.
Seidel had, in fact, misread Chan. And not by a little, but
by a lot. Chan smiled as he turned over his hand. Johnny Chan
had flopped a straight with the Jc 9c. Had Chan not bluffed,
more than likely Seidel would have folded in the face of a
bet from his adversary on the turn or the river.
Chan did bluff. In fact, he did it twice, once on the turn
and again on the river and he reaped a handsome reward: his
second consecutive World Championship.
to Part 4