Call my bluff

There are different ways to win at poker, one thing is for sure: if you can’t bluff, you can’t win

The art of bluffing, like most things in life, is all down to timing. Get the timing right and you could become a consistent winner; get it wrong and it’s good night Vienna. So with timing so crucial, we need to know when to execute a bluff as well as what constitutes a good one.

Carefully consider the pros and cons before exposing your hand. Just showing so as to boost your own ego will usually end in tears

An overriding factor in one’s ability to bluff is confidence. You need to exude total belief in your every move, otherwise a good opponent will be waiting to devour you. There are, of course, times to bluff and times where no amount of confidence will see you through. For example, I apply a simple rule which I abide by 99% of the time: I never bluff in multi-way pots when the flop is showing 10-J/9-J/J- Q, as these are danger cards that must have hit at least one player. Once you are confident in realising which flops you can bluff on, you can start the process of perfecting the execution.


POSITIONAL BLUFF Bluffing from position is the easiest bluff to perform. You see it used from the button on a regular basis as a tool to gain your blinds. To counteract this you need to have the ability to re- raise from one of the blinds. This will have the effect of slowing down your opponent when he has position on you and, of course, you’ll win the tidy amount that he raised with.

SQUEEZE PLAY Let’s say a player raises from early position and gets one or more flat callers. Now a player in late position re-raises and often gets all to pass. This is known as the ‘squeeze’. My own thinking on this is as follows: if I’ve raised from early position and I believe that the player who re-raised in late position is a good player, I will come straight back at him with a flat-raise again. After all, why bother raising in early position if you are going to pass?

If you do come back then you give the impression you must have a monster – you raised into the whole table, got re-raised and came back over the top. Unless your opponent has A-A or K-K (although some muppets will call with A-K) they should pass. But therein lies the problem: they should pass, but sometimes they don’t. For this reason, do not make a move like this on a novice or a very loose player.

STOP AND GO A more advanced bluff I use in the later stages of a tournament is to call a raise and then bet out, known to most as a ‘stop and go’. Only use this if you are able to put your opponent on a hand with a high degree of accuracy. In order to test your own ability at doing this, you must pay attention to all hands being played and try to guess what hand each player has by assimilating the information you have been given.

If you find that you are correct more often than not then you can perform this move with confidence. Again you must take into account the fact that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, if your opponent identifies this as a bluff you enable him to come back at you and you will haemorrhage chips.

Make believe

One thing you have to remember when you make a bluff is whether it will stand up to scrutiny. You’re trying to tell your opponent a certain story, but is what you’re saying actually believable? To explain, I give you my recent encounter in the WPT World Championship.

The blinds are 100/200 and we have a starting stack of 50,000. I have Kings on the small blind and re-raise a mid-table raiser by 1,800. He calls quickly. The flop is 10-8-2, with two diamonds. I bet 4,000 and he calls again quickly. The turn is another 2. I think this is a good card for me and bet 11,000. He calls again and the river is a killer: the Ace of spades. He can obviously see how I hate this final card and I check.

He moves all-in for just over 39,000. My instant reaction is to fold because if I call and lose, I am almost out and we are only on level one! But then I take the time to go through the hand in my head. My foe is representing A-K of diamonds and he would rightly think that he has hit the front with the Ace. But why bet so much? If that were his hand, surely he would bet a smaller amount to get a call.

The next hand I consider is Aces. He can’t have these because I know he would pop me back on the turn, as with two diamonds on the board he would be at risk of being outdrawn by me. The last option is pocket 10s, to which I was always dead and he has played superbly. So he has everything or nothing.

Eventually I decide the bet is too big so it must be a bluff, and choose to call. As I turn over my Kings, he throws his cards face down in the muck. If I was to guess it was probably K-Q or similar.

Show and tell

I am an advocate of showing bluffs at different times during a tournament. Most recently in the WPT World Championship, I had raised with 9-10 and got called by the table bully and chip leader. The flop came A-Q-3 rainbow and as he was first to act, he bet half the pot. I knew it was a bet to test my hand, so I flat-raised expecting him to pass, but he called. The turn paired the 3 and he bet the pot again. I just could not see how he thought he could be in front and decided he was bluffing, so I flat-raised again and he passed, showing 10-J.

I decided to show my bluff and here is my reasoning: as chip leader he was applying pressure to everyone who made a move. I needed some freedom to play so I showed him that I was capable of bluffing him. This had the desired effect and from then on he was very wary of playing hands fast when I was in the pot. By that I mean he slowed down, stopped betting so heavily and stopped putting me under the cosh when I was in a pot against him.

As you can see, I showed my bluff for a reason and I suggest that you carefully consider the pros and cons before exposing your hand. Just showing so as to boost your own ego will usually end in tears.

The devil you know

Lots of poker players tend to take it personally when you bluff them, and you can use this reaction as a weapon against them. Take for instance this hand in the British Open 2006 semi-final, when I was heads-up with Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott.

Having played in cash games against each other for over 25 years, we have a pretty good handle on each other’s game. The Devilfish is without doubt a formidable opponent when he has chips, as he is always putting you under maximum pressure. He is one of the few players who can risk his whole stack and re-raise you, all-in, with nothing.

In one hand I called him all the way down with Queen-high (and won), because I wanted to show him that I wasn’t going to allow him to push me around. Winning the hand was a bonus, but it was more of a statement than good play.

Several hands later I raised and he came straight back at me. I called with 4-5, the flop came 3-3-7 and the Devilfish bet the pot. I decided to raise all-in. At this point, it looked like he may call and I would probably be out, so I decided to talk to him. I actually stood up and said, ‘Isn’t it great when you stick it up the Fish?’ This had the desired effect of putting him off balance, and we entered into a ‘dialogue’, most of which I can’t repeat. He then proceeded to show me a hand of 7-10 and told me that he knew I had an overpair and passed. I flipped over my cards and showed him the bluff.

Once again, I showed for a reason. I wanted to put him on tilt, and I wanted him to think he wouldn’t let me get away with it next time. This eventually led us to our final hand when I re-raised him with Aces and he pushed a massive raise back at me. I think I can safely say my earlier bluff had a strong bearing on his decision.

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