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Playing Poker to Win: The Seminal Importance of Knowing When ‘Not’ to Bluff

Understand when ‘not’ to bluff at poker

When NOT to bluff at poker

The game of online poker involves a whole lot of deception.Checking and raising your stake, bluffing, trying out a semi-bluff, slowplaying, etc,— all of these techniques involve deceiving your opponent in such a way that they totally misunderstand the hand that you hold. And that can only be accomplished, if you do not play in a fairly straightforward manner. In fact, it would not be wrong to state that the concept of deception is actually the crux of this game.

“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

David Sklansky: The Theory of Poker 

In light of the above quotation, we can easily see that it is possible to defeat even the most skilled and experienced poker player if you are able to deceive him in such a way that he totally misjudges the hand that you hold. Alternatively, if he were to take you in completely by his own subterfuge, you will be the losing party, and he will rake in the poker pot.

Here it is very important to understand when ‘not’ to bluff. In fact, this is sometimes even more important than bluffing your way through a game.


Mr. Thomas Logan did not even have a two of a kind and he tried to bluff his way by pushing all of his considerable pile of chips onto the table. He thought that everyone would turn tail and fold. But they did not and called his bluff. The result; he was flat broke and forced to leave the game, while the rest of the players became a little bit richer.

The above example displays the seminal importance of knowing when ‘not’ to bluff.  If you don’t have the right cards, you should not insist on bluffing. This holds true for both online poker games as well as offline ones.

Conversely, you can show that you have a really bad hand by appearing not to raise the stakes while refusing to fold. This will give you a certain air of ambiguity vis-a-vis the other players, and they will not be able to understand exactly what you are holding. And once you lull them into a false sense of security, you can call and rake it all in!

Mastering the Semi-bluff

When is a bluff not a bluff? When it is a semi bluff. The term is exactly what it implies, i.e., it is not a full bluff and not a straightforward play either. There is no particular line between a bluff and a semi-bluff. But we can use a common yardstick in terms of the value that you put at stake.

For example, let us say that a bet that holds anything less than all 5 outs (such as an ‘inside straight draw’)will be considered to be more bluff than semi-bluff. Ultimately, it all depends upon ‘pot equity.’

What is pot equity and how can you base your poker strategy around it?

Pot equity may be defined as ‘the percentage odds of winning any hand at any given point in the game.’ It is generally considered a wise move to base your bluff and/or semi-bluff strategy around it. If your pot equity is very low, then you should refrain from bluffing your way through the hand. But if it is hovering around the 50% mark, you might want to semi-bluff your way.

However, in order to determine this equity, you should not only know about the efficacy of your own hand, but also have an idea about what your opponents are holding.  This is the part where your analytic abilities come in.  If the other players have been exhibiting certain tendencies after every win or loss of a hand, you should observe them closely to see where they stand.

Apart from that, you can also calculate the odds based on the universal laws of probability. For instance, if you have the ace of hearts and clubs, then these two cards are out of circulation, at least as far as the other players are concerned.

Fold Equity

Similarly, you should also have at least a rough estimate of the fold equity of the hand. Basically, this is the total equity that any player can expect to acquire once his opponents decide to fold their bets. Now, why would they do that? Because they do not know what you have up your sleeve.  This means you have successfully confused them to such an extent that they have decided to quit.

In any case, you will have to measure the pot odds and decide which strategy you should apply— bluff, semi-bluff or fold.


Whether you are playing poker online or offline, knowing when to put your cards on the table or bluff your way through a game is critical if you want to win.

The subtle art of bluffing is a very common strategic move applied by most players of the game. And this holds particularly true when you play poker online. Once you master it, you may be able to start an unbeatable winning streak. Go ahead and give it a try.





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