I could write anything useful on the subject of poker
psychology, but I cannot. I have read literally thousands of pages on
the subject. It is interesting for a poker addict to read about this
type of player and that type of player and what their habits are and
how to detect them, but from a practical standpoint it is all bosh.
Poker psychology is a matter of special aptitude. You have it or you
don't. If you have it nobody needs to teach you and if you don't have
it nobody can. All I have ever been able to say on the subject is this:
If you are being consistently outguessed, you aren't going to be able
to do anything about it. It is no disgrace to lack the knack, but there
is no remedy.
it is possible to be a consistent winner in a poker game
even if one or two other players surpass you in the intuition (or
whatever it is) that gives one player ascendancy over another. If you
have better technique (knowledge of the game and application of that
knowledge) and if you are more conservative (which means playing only
when it is mathematically sound to do so) you can still beat the
intuitive player who tosses his chips away in curiosity or
overoptimism. If the majority of the players in the game are equal or
superior to you in technique
and can also outguess you, that simply is no game for you to be
of what I said about psychology can be applied also to the art of
bluffing, and it is an art, never think it isn't; but bluffing does
lend itself to a considerable amount of advice and standard rules,
which I will discuss here.
and most important, you have to bluff sometimes. I know that
some players are temperamentally unsuited to bluffing and find it
repugnant, but it is a necessary part of the game. If you never bluff,
that fact soon becomes noticed and you do not get called on your good
hands. If you never get called on your good hands, you are unlikely to
literature of poker takes a standard attitude toward bluffing.
"Bluffing is advertising," it shouts. "When you bluff, expect to lose;
your reward is that you will then get called on your good hands."
always agreed with the conclusion but I have never been able to
stomach the premise.
opinion, every bet you make in poker should be made for one
purpose only: To win the pot. I admit that bluffing is a losing game at
best, because in poker the best hand usually wins the pot, but I still
feel that every bluff should be so designed as to have the best
possible chance to win.
advice on bluffing policy is as follows. At the start of the game or
session, do not bluff. If you are getting called on your good hands,
continue not to bluff. After two or three cases in which you do not get
called, begin to bluff. After two cases in which you have bluffed and
have been caught, stop bluffing until again you find that you are not
being called on your good hands.
bluffing requires a knowledge of position, which I will
discuss next. Most of all, however, it requires a certain amount of
conscious thought. It is not a matter of inspiration.
your bluff in advance. Imagine a particular hand that you would
like to hold and imagine the most skillful way you could play that
hand. Then, assuming that you hold the hand you wish to represent, bet
throughout as if you had that hand. The most frequent bluff by far is
also the most futile bluff. A player draws one card to a straight or
flush possibility, fails to fill, and stubbornly bets anyway. This is a
bad bluff for a liberal player. It is a good bluff only for a
conservative player who almost never draws to a straight or flush
possibility, and even
player must be careful not to bluff into a hand that may comprise
two fairly high pairs, because his one-card draw will usually be
figured for a two-pair hand. He will get a call that is not suspicious
but quite valid.
next most frequent bluff, and almost as futile a bluff for a good
player, is the one in which a player with a single pair represents
three of a kind by raising before the draw and drawing two cards, after
which he bets. If it is a planned bluff, he may have a two-card draw to
a flush or straight rather than to a pair. Before considering this
bluff, make sure that if you actually did hold three of a kind you
would play them in exactly the same way. A bluff must almost always be
planned from the start of the hand. If it is based on a later impulse,
it will hardly fool a good player because he will find some
inconsistency in the way the hand was played at the start.
brings us to another cliche of poker, but it is a valid one: It is
easier to bluff a good player than a poor player. For example, a poor
player will often stay in on a low pair and draw two cards to the low
pair and an ace kicker. Don't try to bluff him by drawing two cards. He
will be too suspicious of an unsound act that he is capable of doing
most effective among bluffs is the pat-hand bluff. It is most
effective if you have simply played without raising when you are close
to the opener or when there is obviously a chance that several players
may stay or even raise after you. For this kind of bluff, if you do get
a later opportunity you must raise and, if the pot has previously been
raised, you must reraise. It is logical with a pat hand to try to suck
in as many players as possible, and if there is any false note—if you
would not have played a genuine pat hand in exactly the same way—it is
a bad bluff.
pat-hand bluff is fortified by an occasional instance in which you
stand pat with three of a kind or perhaps with aces or kings up. The
odds are 9 to 1 against improving three of a kind, which usually will
win without improvement anyway, and 11 to 1 against improving aces up,
which also will usually win without improvement, so if you have been
caught with one or two pat-hand bluffs you help to keep the opponents
guessing by repeating your action when you have a fair hand that will
probably win on its own. But the important thing to remember is that
all these stratagems are designed to keep the opponents guessing and
not to be an integral part of your effort to win.
objective in poker is still and will remain the effort to win
as much as possible when you have the best hand.
will often hear it said that bluffing depends largely on the stakes
in the game—that you cannot bluff successfully in a low-limit game and
that you can bluff successfully in a high-limit or table stakes game.
There is not a great deal to this.
in a wide-open low-limit game along relatively poor players,
it is hard to get away with a bluff when there is perhaps $15 or $20
in the pot and all you can bet is $2. But in a good game, this does not
necessarily apply. A good player doesn't want to throw away any chips,
no matter how few. The mathematical considerations that apply to
staying in the pot do not apply to calling a final bet. If there are
$20 in the pot and you can draw cards for $2, you are getting odds of
10 to 1 and your chance of improving is likely to be considerably
better than that. But when it comes to calling a final bet, there are
no odds. Either the player has what he represents or he hasn't. If he
has what he represents, any chips put in the pot are money thrown away.
The difficulty in bluffing in a good game is that a good opponent is
all the more likely to read your bluff and call whether the pot is big
big-bet bluff does usually win, simply because it isn't worth while
for a serious player to call it. If you bet a $50 or $100 stack to win
a $10 or $12 pot, you will get away with it more often than not. The
difficulty is that even if your bluffs are not detected, you are going
from time to time to run into a hand that is good enough to call on its
merits and not on suspicion, and in such cases you are likely to lose
back more than you pick up in that succession of small pots.
in stud poker is different from bluffing in draw poker, in one
important respect. In stud .poker, your bluff must represent some
particular hole card with which you would have played as you did.
bluff in stud poker can be either a planned bluff or an unexpected
bluff that develops from the end situation.
planned bluff, the player represents a certain hand throughout
and never deviates from the course he would have followed if he had
actually had that hand.
unplanned bluff, the player winds up with a losing hand but
suddenly realizes that he would have played the same way on a
different, winning hand. He then bets as though he had that winning
hand. For example, A has 6 in the hole and
6-Q-8-A showing; B has king in the hole and J-10-K-5 showing. A bets
and B drops. This is a semi-bluff, because A might actually have the
winning hand (but if he has, he will not get a call anyway). B is
justified in figuring A for an ace. If more than one ace has shown,
this bluff may lose; if A has raised previously, the bluff should not
be attempted. If B is a poor or a wild player who doesn't do much
thinking, the bluff will probably lose.
you are trying to spot another player's bluff, you have to depend
on your judgment of the player more than on anything else; but one
principle to keep in mind is this: You can't always trust the man who
bets or raises but you can nearly always trust the man who calls.
Suppose you are C, third man to speak. A, the first man, bets; B calls.
Before worrying about beating A, pause to wonder if you can beat B. He
I will have
more to say about bluffing from time to time in the future.
At this point I want to repeat a statement that may not have received
enough notice when I said it the first time. You are unlikely to be a
winning poker player if you never bluff. You must bluff from time to
time, win or lose. But whenever you bluff, try to win.