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This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.
Bluffing is arguably the most exciting part of the game of poker, so much so
that it has almost become synonymous with the game itself.
To be a great poker player is to be able to pull off huge bluffs without
breaking a sweat or raising a heartbeat.
While there’s much more to being a great poker player, knowing when and how to
bluff successfully certainly plays a large role.
And since knowing when to bluff isn’t something that you can learn by merely
reading an article, it might be more helpful to flip the script and consider
the spots in which you’re better off not bluffing.
By figuring out when not to bluff, you’ll be better equipped to recognize the
spots in which you should pull the trigger with your busted flush draw.
This article will cover 3 common situations where bluffing is usually not a
profitable option, help you recognize such situations, and save you a lot of
money from ill-conceived bluffs in the future.
1. When Your Opponent Doesn’t Fold
The point of bluffing is to get stronger hands than yours to fold. If your
opponent isn’t likely to fold, your bluff isn’t likely to succeed, so you
should avoid bluffing altogether.
There are many factors that determine how likely your opponent is to fold, and
determining it is more of an art than science.
While you can calculate the pot odds and the odds of hitting your draws, for
example (it’s basic math, really), you can’t accurately calculate the chances
of your opponents doing certain actions, as you obviously don’t know their
hole cards or their decision making process.
So, the best you can do is give a rough estimate based on the information you’ve
previously picked up on them.
The first and the most obvious factor that determines how often a player folds
is their overall player type, i.e. how tight or loose they are, or to put it
more bluntly, how bad of a player they are.
As a general rule, bad poker players (aka the fish) will obviously be far less
willing to fold if they catch any piece of the board, or any sort of a draw.
This also goes for paired flops by the way which Nathan discussed in a recent
video. You must stop trying to bluff on paired flops like this!
It’s also worth mentioning they don’t view their hand strength in relative
terms, i.e. they don’t consider how weak or strong their hand is in relation
to the board runout, their opponent’s tendencies, their perceived ranges, the
previous action and so on.
They only care about their absolute hand strength, meaning the stronger their
hand ranking is, the less likely they are to fold, regardless of the previous
They won’t fold their weak flushes and will never, ever fold a full
Fish tend to overvalue certain hands and get irrationally attached to them,
for example they won’t be willing to part with their overpairs on the flop
(i.e. a pocket pair that is stronger than the possible pairs on the
For instance, on a flop like Q95, pocket Aces and pocket Kings are an
They will also overvalue other hands like bottom two pairs, a set and so on,
even on the scariest of boards. So overall, bluffing recreational players is
usually a bad idea.
Not only will they get sticky with a lot of marginal holdings, they’ll also
chase their ludicrous draws regardless of the price.
So if you see some sort of straight or flush draw completing on the big money
streets (i.e. turn or river), you should exercise caution, as it’s quite
likely a decent chunk of their calling range consists of all kinds of drawing
Example Hand (Bad Bluffing Situation)
You are dealt A♥Q♥ in the CO.
You open-raise to 3x. A loose and passive villain calls from the BU.
Pot: 7.5 BB
The flop: J♦7♠2♦
You c-bet 3 BB. Villain calls.
The turn: 8♠
You should check.
You have a standard open-raise preflop and get called (unsurprisingly) by a
recreational player. You miss the flop, but you can try to take down the pot
with a standard continuation bet.
The board is fairly dry, your opponent’s calling range is quite weak and wide,
and it’s safe to assume they missed the board more often than not.
You have the range advantage, so you can c-bet even though the villain tends
to overcall. You still have two overcards, so you can improve on later
You use the smaller c-bet size because you want a better risk to reward ratio.
The turn card is no help. It completes a potential straight draw if your
opponent has T9, and it puts another flush draw on the board.
Since the villain didn’t fold on the flop, it isn’t likely they’ll fold on the
turn, either. Based on the villain’s player type and the board texture,
bluffing is unlikely to be successful.
The number of drawing hands the villain can have is through the roof, as well
as random Jx hands, pocket pairs and so on.
Hero checks and hopes to either improve to a top pair on the river, or see a
cheap showdown with Ace-high.
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2. When Your Opponent is Showing A lot of Strength
The aim of bluffing is to get your opponents to fold, and they’re more likely
to do so if they have a weak hand.
This seems like a fairly obvious point, but a lot of poker players make the
mistake of not applying enough pressure in those marginal situations where
their opponents would likely fold had they just pulled the trigger at the
Or worse yet, they try a big bluff when their opponent has already shown
strength, and they think they can push them out of the pot by repping an even
The latter is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to
The more money your opponent has already put into the pot, the less likely it
is for your bluff to work, because they are already pot committed.
It doesn’t make mathematical sense to fold in the middle of the hand if you’ve
already committed most of your stack to the pot.
Regardless of how well-thought out your bluff might be otherwise, it isn’t
likely to succeed.
What you want to do instead is bluff in situations where nobody seems
particularly interested or committed to the pot, and when nobody has shown
What you want to be on the lookout for are the range-capping actions, i.e.
checking and calling.
A capped range is the one that theoretically contains less strong hands than
an uncapped range, based on the actions taken throughout the hand, i.e.
there’s an upper limit of your perceived hand strength.
For example, if you call an open raise preflop, your range is capped, because
if you had a really strong hand like pocket Aces, pocket Kings, Ace-King and
so on, you would have probably re-raised (3-bet).
Therefore, your range is capped and your opponent can conclude you don’t have
these strong hands in your range.
So how does this relate to bluffing?
It’s simple: you try to bluff capped ranges, and avoid attacking
uncapped ranges, because they theoretically have more strong hands, and aren’t
as likely to fold to your bluff.
3. When Your Bluff Doesn’t Tell a Believable Story
In order for your bluff to be successful, you need to convince your opponent
you have a stronger hand than them.
Another fairly obvious point, but a lot of poker players fail to take into
account how their actions look from their opponent’s perspective.
If your bluff doesn’t tell a congruent story, your opponent might pick up on
it, and decide to look you up. Remember, if you’re trying to bluff someone,
you need to know that they are actually capable of folding.
This mostly excludes recreational poker players and major calling stations,
who don’t really pay attention to anything but their hole cards.
This means that the players who are better targets for bluffing would be the
ones that actually pay attention.
And if they do, you can obviously expect a higher level of scrutiny from them.
They’ll be more aware of your previous action, and might pick up if something
doesn’t add up.
So in order for your bluff to work, you need to make sure it tells a
believable story, i.e. you can successfully represent strong hands.
For example, if you 3-bet preflop, c-bet the flop, bet the turn, then fire a
third shell on the river (and do so with an appropriate bet sizing, of
course), your opponent will need a strong hand indeed to call you down, and
won’t be too comfortable with bluff catching with some sort of mediocre hand.
Even though you might hold complete air (if you missed your flush draw, for
example), you can still credibly represent a lot of strong hands, because your
actions scream strength.
Triple-barrel bluffing isn’t something a lot of players are comfortable with
doing, so if their opponent happens to fire that third shell on the river,
they’ll usually believe you have something to show for it.
On the other hand, suppose that you 3-bet preflop, c-bet the flop, check the
turn, and then bet the river when your opponent checks back to you.
Your hand doesn’t scream incredible strength anymore, and your opponent might
start to wonder why you missed a bet on the turn.
Bad Bluffs (Summary)
The goal of bluffing is to get your opponent to fold. If your opponent is
rarely or ever folding, just don’t try to bluff them, period.
This is especially the case when playing against loose recreational players,
aka the fish. They hate folding, and they love calling. Save your bluffs for
players who actually pay attention.
Your bluffs are more likely to succeed against weak/mediocre hands.
Look for players that are passive and don’t put up much of a fight to steal a
bunch of small-to-medium sized pots that nobody seems to be particularly
Don’t try to bluff in spots where your opponents seem to be heavily invested
in the pot already. Look for range-capping actions (i.e. checking or calling)
and attack capped ranges.
Finally, consider how the bluff looks from your opponent’s perspective. Can
you credibly represent strong hands with your bluff as well?
If not, your opponent might figure out something doesn’t add up and call you
These three key points can serve as a sort of a mental checklist to go through
when deciding whether or not to bluff in a certain spot.
Since there are so many factors to consider in a given spot, it’s useful to
have some sort of shortcut like this to fall back on when making complex
At the end of the day, though, you’ll never be able to make a 100% informed
Sometimes you’ll just have to go with your gut.
If you still don’t know what to do, here’s a bonus tip to fall back on: When
in doubt, don’t.