The ability to bluff in poker is perhaps the biggest allure of the game. At its core, the game of poker can be reduced down to one huge game of bullshit (or if you grew up in a household where swearing was frowned upon, the game was likely called “I doubt it”). In other words because you are allowed to bluff, poker becomes a game not only of knowing how to play your cards strategically well, but it also becomes a game of deception and lying. And it is this ability to deceive that makes the game so intriguing and difficult.
Because you have the ability to take down a pot that would not be yours if the cards were shown, a successful bluff is one of the biggest highs you can get from the game. Poker is one of the few realms where we are allowed to lie, steal, and deceive in a structured setting and in fact are rewarded if we do it well. When I am in a hand where I am confident that I am likely behind, I wonder, “Can I steal this pot by bluffing?” Likewise, when I am in a hand where I have decent, but not spectacular showdown value, but I am facing a lot of aggression from an opponent, I wonder, “Is he bluffing or am I ahead here?”
It is this constant unknown entity that the bluff brings to the game of poker which makes it so uncertain…. and intriguing. None of us like to have one pulled over on us, and all of us feel a little giddy when we pull one over on others. The only way to find out if a player is bluffing is to call him down, but to do that you need to risk your hard earned cash. If you have played the game for a decent amount of time, you are sure to have felt the joy from sniffing out a bluff and calling with a marginal holding; but you are also likewise to have felt the sting of losing lots of chips and shaking your head when your opponent shows you the nuts and you called down with Ace high.
While the ability to bluff adds a huge wrinkle to the game of poker, the allure of a bluff can also be a downfall. I have bluffed off my stack on numerous occasions because I was on tilt, I was tired, or I just wasn’t thinking clearly. Many players start making bad bluffs which are likely to be called down because they are tilting; they might be drunk, they might be running bad or they might have just been bluffed off a pot themselves. Recognizing when a bluff has a high chance of being successful and when it is best to just fold and move on to the next hand thus becomes a huge skill in becoming a profitable player. In my next post, I will talk about what situations and criteria give rise to a scenario where making a bluff becomes a profitable play; and in which scenarios a bluff is a losing play.