Bluffing Correctly ; Success Comes Down to Focus

How to bluff correctly in poker
by George Epstein


Playing poker don’t expect your bluff to work every time. There will be times when an opponent holds a strong hand; so he calls your bluff Bluffing is an essential strategy in every game of poker. As a rule, if you never bluff, you are bound to be a loser. Your opponents soon learn you are a tight player – a “rock” – so they fold whenever you raise, knowing you never bluff.

Generally speaking, if your goal is to go home a winner, it is important to be skilled in the art of bluffing. How often do your bluffs need to succeed to be ahead?

Don’t expect your bluff to work every time. There will be times when an opponent holds a strong hand; so he calls your bluff – perhaps with some hesitation. Then, too, there may be one or more “calling-stations” at your table. Once they have invested in a hand, they are determined to call no matter what.

Bluffing break-even

The break-even is a measure of the percent of bluffs that must succeed in order for the bluffer to come out even. Win more than that of your bluffs, and you are a winner. Win fewer, and you are a loser. The lower the break-even, the better your chance of being a big winner.

Conservatively, we estimate that break-even for bluffing in limit hold’em is approximately 40 percent. It could be much lower. On average, if your bluffs succeed more than 40, you are ahead.

It is harder to bluff in low-limit games where the size of the bets is constrained and limited. You don’t have the great power of a big bet to discourage your opponents from calling, as is the case in no-limit games. But, even in a low-limit game, a “smart” bluffer – who uses the Esther Bluff tactic – can win over 70 percent of the time, considerably more than our estimated break-even.

The break-even for bluffing is an educated guess. For no-limit games, it is practically impossible to even roughly estimate the break-even because of the implied pot odds, especially the unknown size of the bets on the turn and river, which often are extremely high.

For limit games, first, we estimated a break-even of approximately 30 percent on the basis that, on average, you “fire a barrel” to bluff (semi-bluff) on the turn, and, if necessary, a “second barrel” on the river. Assume four opponents and you call preflop and then again on the flop, with no raises. Then, one calls your semi-bluff on the turn, and folds when you bluff-bet on the river. Subtracting the casino rake, you have gained a total of approximately 4.5 big bets.

In the same scenario, if one opponent calls on the turn, and then you bluff again on the river, but lose to the caller, you will have invested – and lost – two big bluff-bets. Thus, when your bluff succeeds, you gain 4.5 big bets vs. a loss of two big bets when called. You must win approximately 30 percent (2 divided by 6.5 times 100) of your bluffs for break-even.


If there is a raise before the flop, and the same players stay to see the flop, the break-even is somewhat lower (2 divided by 7.5 times 100).

Then, from your winnings, we subtracted 10 percent (also an estimate) to account for opponents with weaker hands than yours. You would have won in a showdown, so those bluffs should not be counted. On this basis, a 40 percent break-even would seem to be a good estimate and fairly conservative. In practice, break-even is probably much lower.


Once you have been caught in a bluff, it is wise to hold off on bluffing for a while – perhaps 20 to 30 minutes. Recalling your bluff on the earlier hand, your opponents are more likely to be suspicious and decide to call your bluff-bet.

On the other hand, while playing tight at that point, they are more likely to call you when you raise with a monster hand – so you win bigger pots than otherwise.
“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at



Success in poker comes down to focus
by Irene Edith

These ladies probably wouldn’t enjoy Texas Hold’emMany of my poker friends and I enjoy playing 4-8 limit with ½ or full kill, at our local casinos. Hopefully, it’s always a good game – loose and not too aggressive, especially before the flop. (Otherwise, consider making a table change.)

And, hopefully you almost always go home a winner! That pleases you to no end. What’s the secret? Well, among other things, long ago you learned the value of focusing on every hand while you are seated at that table – especially those in which you have already mucked your hole cards.

Without paying close attention to the game – focusing – you are likely to be a frequent loser. You should focus not only on your own hand, but also on your opponents who are in the pot with you. Let’s elaborate.

Most important is to focus on your starting-hand selection. This is where you make your initial “investment” in that hand. Be sure it’s a wise investment – with hole cards that have at least a reasonable chance of becoming the winning hand at the showdown. With a drawing hand, the best way to focus on your hole cards is to ask yourself, “Are these two hole cards likely to connect with the other cards on the board to win the pot for me?”

To help you, there are tables in many poker books that list the best starting hands. No guarantee it will lead to a winner; but it’s a good starting point.

Lou Krieger’s “Hold’em Excellence” includes his “Start Chart,” which can be quite helpful. Most of my poker friends and I prefer Epstein’s “Hold’em Algorithm.” Be warned, you may find yourself sitting out as many as five out of six hands from an early position. Be patient. Sooner or later, you will be dealt a playable starting hand.

As you focus on your hole cards, at the same time, pay close attention to your opponents to see how they are betting – especially those seated to your left who will be acting after you. On prior hands, as you observed your opponents, you should have formed an opinion as to what kind of player each is – tight or loose, passive or aggressive, etc. – and then use this information along with how many chips each has in order to make prudent decisions.

As for your opponents, how often do you see them actively cheering on their favorite basketball team as the game is broadcast on the big TV screen mounted on the wall – instead of focusing on the game at your table? How often do you see players enjoying alcoholic beverages while playing their hands? Very likely, they fail to fully focus on their hands and the game underway. These players are bound to make mistakes – all to your advantage.

Flop and after

Of course, the same applies on the flop and later streets. Focus! Always pay attention to your opponents’ betting/raising. Couple this with what you have learned about their betting traits and patterns. For example, when an early-position player who you have determined is tight raises the pot on the flop after limping during the preflop betting round, you know he has a strong hand. Quietly, fold your small pair and save yourself a lot of chips. Don’t chase!

The same applies to the rest of that hand. In fact, it’s even more important to focus on the later streets when the bets are much bigger. Because you have focused on the hand, you have avoided the loss of a significant amount of chips. The chips you save are just as valuable as those you win.

Bottom line

Focus as best you can, both on your own hand and on your opponents’ playing. Factor in his traits based on previous hands and be a bigger winner.

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