is the fourth and final article in a series on the magic,
along with a final tale about one of poker's best bluffs.
most instances, acting last - after you've had a chance to
see what your opponents do - is a big advantage. But when
you're bluffing it's often advantageous to act first.
your opponent checks and you bet, he's likely to realize that
you are trying to take advantage of the fact that he's shown
weakness. As a result, he is more prone to call - or even
raise, if he's a very aggressive player - with marginal hands.
betting from first position conveys the image that you really
do have a strong hand. After all, you are betting into someone
who could have a really powerful hand. Your opponent, of course,
will realize that and be more willing to release a marginal
hand than he would be if you bet following his check.
More Than One Opponent
The odds against a bluff succeeding increase exponentially
as you add additional opponents to the equation. The more
opponents, the more someone is likely to call "…to keep you
Suppose you were facing a single opponent and thought that
your bluff would succeed one-third of the time. Those aren't
bad odds, particularly when the money in the pot exceeds the
odds against a successful bluff. Suppose the pot contains
$90 and the price of a bet is $30. If this situation were
to repeat itself and your estimate of successfully bluffing
was accurate, you would bet $30 twice and lose, but you'd
win $90 the third time. In the long run, this is an opportunity
with a positive expected value.
But what happens if you add a third player to the mix? Once
again, you figure that your chances of successfully bluffing
the additional player are one chance in three. The presence
of a third player will, of course, increase the size of the
pot. Let's assume that the pot now contains $130.
Although the size of the pot has increased arithmetically,
the chances against your bluff succeeding have grown geometrically.
In fact, your chances of a bluff that will succeed one-third
of the time against each opponent have decreased to one-ninth
of the time when you consider both opponents together.
no magic here. We're simply multiplying fractions. One-third
multiplied by one-third is one-ninth. While the size of the
pot increased, it has by no means increased to a point where
it offsets the very long odds against successfully bluffing
work best against a small number of opponents. The fewer the
better. Three is almost always too many, and even running
a bluff through two players is difficult.
is one exception, however. Assume that there are no more cards
to come. If you are first to act and are facing two opponents,
you can bluff if you think that the last player to act was
on a draw and missed his hand.
you are playing Hold'em and there were two suited cards on
the flop. If the third opponent simply called on the flop
and the turn, chances are he might have had a flush draw that
never materialized. If that's the case, he is very likely
to release his hand against a bet on the river, even if he
suspects that you're bluffing. When all is said and done,
he might not even be able to beat a bluff.
the player in the middle has a lot to worry about. If you
bet not only does he have to worry about whether you have
a real hand, he also needs to concern himself with the player
to his left. Even if the player in the middle has a marginal
hand - the kind he'd call you with if the two of you were
heads-up - he might release it. After all, he has two concerns:
Your hand might be stronger than his, and the third player
might also have a better hand.
your opponent in the middle is a good player - good enough
to release a marginal hand rather than stubbornly call "…to
keep you honest" - you might use the implied threat of the
third adversary to force the man in the middle to shed his
Bluffs: Stu Ungar versus Ron Stanley
was fortunate enough to watch this bluff unfold in person,
from the press row at the 1997 World Series of Poker.
the 1997 World Series of Poker, Stu Ungar had been dominating
the final table. He was chip leader from the start, and rather
than nursing his lead while his opponents eliminated themselves,
Ungar attacked early and often.
he raised on seven successive hands in a row. Bluffing? Of
course he was. But none of his opponents wanted to risk early
elimination to find out for sure. Each subsequent rung on
the pay ladder was a significant increase in winnings, so
each of Ungar's adversaries was apparently content to cautiously
inch his way upward.
After Las Vegas professional poker player Ron Stanley stole
the blinds a few times, he moved within $200,000 of Ungar.
For a moment, it looked like he might overtake him.
a few hands later the two chip leaders began a heads-up duel.
With Ungar in the big blind, Stanley quietly called. The flop
was As 9h 6s. Stanley, a seasoned professional, had noticed
that each time Ungar flopped top pair with an ace, he checked
the flop and bet on the turn. Once again he checked behind
Stanley, suggesting that he might be holding an ace once again.
eight fell on the turn. Stanley, who had a nine in his hand
and second pair, bet $25,000. Ungar raised $60,000 and Stanley
called. The last card was a king. Stanley checked and folded
when Ungar bet $225,000. Ungar brashly turned up his cards,
showing Q-10. It was a total bluff. He had no hand whatsoever,
and Ron Stanley had released the best hand. Seemingly unnerved
by Ungar's bold action, Stanley was eliminated shortly thereafter,
while Ungar proceeded to run over the rest of his opponents
- who by this time all seemed to realize that they were playing
for second place, not the championship.
to Ten Tips to Better Bluffing