The threat of a bluff is just as important as a bluff itself. A good player ¾ one who bluffs neither too often nor too infrequently, and seems to do so under the right conditions ¾ has something else going for him too. It’s the threat of a bluff. Does he have the goods or is he bluffing? How can you tell? If you can’t, how do you know what to do when he bets?
These answers are not come by easily. And even top-notch players are not going to have a terrific batting average in most cases. As a result, the threat of a bluff combined with the bluff itself, is designed to help a player win some pots that he would otherwise lose, and to win more money in pots where he actually has the best hand.
After all, if you have the best hand and come out betting, your opponent won’t always know whether you’re bluffing or not. If there’s a lot of money in the pot, he’ll probably call. That’s the less costly error. After all, if he were to throw the winning hand away and relinquish a big pot, that’s a much more costly faux pas than calling one additional bet.
Bluffing and the threat of bluffing go hand in hand. A bluff can enable a player to win a pot he figured to lose if the hands were shown down. The threat of a bluff enables a player with a good hand to win more money than he would if his opponent knew he never bluffed.
A BALANCED APPROACH TO BLUFFING
A successful poker player has to adopt a middle ground strategy. This means that sometimes you’ll be called when you bluffed and lose that bet. Other times you will release the best hand because an opponent successfully bluffed you out of the pot.
Neither is enjoyable. Just remember that making errors is inevitable when you deal with incomplete information. One can call too often or not enough. One can bluff too often or not at all. And the only way to eliminate errors at one extreme is to commit them at the other.
THE BLUFFING PARADOX
Very cautious players, who never call unless certain of winning, will avoid calling with a lesser hand, but will often relinquish a pot they would have won. Players who call all the time will capture just about every pot they could possibly win, but will find themselves holding the short straw far too often when the hands are shown down.
The paradox is that good players will make both kinds of errors some of the time, in order to avoid being a predictable player at one or the other end of the bluffing-calling spectrum.
After all, there’s a relationship between risk and reward. If you are never caught bluffing, you are either the best bluffer in the history of poker or you are not bluffing often enough. If you are caught almost every time you bluff, you’re bluffing much too frequently.
If you call all the time, you will never lose a pot you could have won, and if you seldom call, your opponents will learn that they can win by betting and driving you off the pot unless you have a very strong hand.
Bluffing, after all, is much like mom’s advice: “All Togel things in moderation.” There’ll be more moderately sage advice next issue, but for now, here another of poker’s more storied bluffs; this one related by English author Al Alvarex, in “The Biggest Game In Town,” a wonderfully accurate and insightful look at the World Series of Poker.