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The ART of Bluffing

     Learning the art of the bluff is mandatory for any serious player. It doesn't matter how smart you play, or how well you calculate pot odds; you'll never make any serious money if you don't include the occasional bluff in your game.

Bluffing at a high level takes years of experience to master, but I'll cover some common situations where you will want to start thinking bluff.

The thing about the bluff is that your apparent table image will dictate how much bluffing you can get away with. This will change with every session. The important thing to keep in mind is: What has transpired in the session thus far? Try and keep a mental picture of what type of player your opponents think you are, and occasionally bet out of that character.

A lot of skilled players approach the game with furious aggression. We've all been at the table with a maniac. If this style of play is successful early in a tournament they can go on to dominate most, or all, of the event. The presence of the maniac at a ring can create a wider win/loss variance which can seriously increase or diminish your bankroll. This style is rooted in bluffing and as the maniac's chip stack grows, the size of the bluff will grow. It's about putting short-stacked players into a position where they have to risk most, or all, of their chips early in a hand. At a ring game it's about forcing most players out of the hand, which increases their winning percentage. Maniacs bet on what their opponents don't have in their hand, instead of betting on what's in their hand.

Let's look at the role position plays in bluffing. The more information you have, the easier it is to make a bet. If you're on the button and everyone checks the flop, it may be a good time to throw in a bluff. You should do more bluffing in late positions and expect more bluffs from opponents when they are in late positions. Keep your eyes open for players who will look to check raise your late position bluff. They will most likely have a big hand. For that reason it's also a good bluff to go over a late position raise, just to see if the late position player was trying a bluff of their own.

Orphaned pots are another common situation where a bluff will prove profitable on a good percentage. Let's say everyone checks the flop and the button bets. You have a draw or a piece of the flop and call. A rag comes off on the turn but this time the button also checks. He fails to bet the pot the second time. If another rag comes off on the river, this is a good spot to push this opponent because he is telling you he thinks he's beat, and wants to save a bet. Just beware the check raise.

Short handed play must be played with the bluff as a foundation. When the table is reduced down to three players or less, you should be looking for situations where you recognize weakness in your opponents. Also, you use the percentages to your advantage. Your opponent's hands will be worse on average than a full game, so you will be able to force players to fold more often. With only eight or six cards in play, the likelihood of you being up against a premium hand has greatly diminished.

The last one I'll look at is extreme flops. If a flop comes down 5, 5, 10, and I'm in a blind position, I'll usually take a stab and throw out a bet. Your opponents will think it likely that the blind position would have a 5, and the chances of your opponents having a 5 will lessen if they paid to play the hand. A similar situation would be if the flop was three of the same suit. Once again, beware the check raise.

Learning to bluff requires as much study and practice as learning pot odds or positional play. Remember that your chances of bluffing successfully increase as the number of opponents who you're trying to bluff decreases. Record which bluffs were profitable and which ones were not. Your data will tell you which ones you can keep in your game, and which ones to omit. Good luck.

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