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Sixth Rule of Poker

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The Sixth Golden Rule of Poker
Utilize bluffing; bluff with the best-balanced frequency to maximize its usefulness.


The first thing to acknowledge is that bluffing is an essential element of poker. Without it, your arsenal decreases in potency. The player who sits back all night waiting for a good hand to collect a pot will lose more in most hands than he wins when his monster comes around. The fact is that most people recognize of other players whether or not they are 'bluffers'. If you've been known to bluff -successfully or not- you can already count yourself one step closer to being among the poker-playing elite. If you can create doubt at a table when you bet, you're doing yourself all kinds of favours.

Having recognized the need to bluff at least minimally, we move on to how to bluff successfully and with the right frequency. To put to use what we've learned so far, the best bluff involves no tells. You need to ensure that when you bluff, you act and carry yourself in the same manner as you would if you were betting with a good hand.

The size of the pot is also important. When you bluff, you anticipate folding at least one hand. If no hand folds, then your bluff was a failure or the hands out there are too strong. The larger the pot, the less likely a player will fold from it, as they have much more to gain from staying in the game. If the pot is smaller, then your bluff will fold more hands. In short, don't make the mistake of trying to bluff for an enormous pot...you won't stand a chance.

The amount of live players in the game is also important. Bluffing out one player is possible, two players is hard, three players is next to impossible, four players or more has a snowball's chance in hell. When you bluff, you try to scare other players out of the game by making them believe that your hand is stronger than it is. Effectively, you are pulling off a ruse...a deception. It's a whole lot easier to deceive a smaller number of players, and a monster won't back out of the pot (or even a loose player with a semi-decent hand). The stronger your opponent's hand, the more likely you will be called. If your opponent re-raises, give very serious consideration to getting out of the pot.

The type of live players in the game is equally important, and an issue already discussed. You would not bluff into a loose player who never folds. If you know that this player will call you, then you also know that a bluff would be a waste of money. Against such a player, you would be far better to not bluff at all, checking or folding a weak hand. You should be more inclined to bluff into one or two tight players. They are more prone to folding, but when a really tight player calls you, look out. He's probably holding a strong hand. If he goes further and re-raises, get the hell out. You've been had...there should be no shame in strategic folding.

The tough part about home games is that typically, there are lower stakes to keep things friendly. While this is the poker that I much prefer, the problem that it creates is that players are often prone to call before they fold. When fifty cents is the maximum bet, most people will be inclined to stay in the game. There are two ways of handling this where it concerns small stakes games.

One, never try to bluff more than two players out of a small stakes game, and consider going at two players to even be a risky move. Even with low stakes, one player can be scared out of the game, but two will be a challenge. Two, get a feel for the table. Even though fifty cents is not a large sum of money, the feel of the table may be that because it is the maximum bet, it is enough of a scare in itself. Put another way, you are making a strong statement by using the table's maximum bet, even though the size of that bet is not alot of money. Only a table with this type of perspective will offer this kind of atmosphere. Otherwise, with stakes too low, everybody will play loosely, minimizing your room to bluff.

The frequency with which you bluff is another tricky element. There are two things you want to bear in mind. The first is how you perceive the table you're sitting at. The second is how you plan to have yourself perceived by the table.

The first is one we've already discussed. If the table is loose, bluff less. If the table is tight, bluff more. If the pot is big, be less inclined to bluff. If there are alot of live players in the game, be less inclined to bluff. If the table's higher to maximum bets are typically not enough to really scare anybody out of a hand, be less inclined to bluff. You make assessments of the players at the table as you go, and adjust the elements of your playing style accordingly. Bluffing is no different. You might even be able to plan your bluff to the number after drawing enough conclusions about the table (ie. "I will bluff one in every twelve weak hands.").

The second point about frequency is what turns the tables on you, as it were. We've spent a considerable amount of time discussing how you perceive the rest of the table. Now, imagine for a moment that you too are being evaluated and assessed. If you play with skilled players, do more than imagine...assume you are being evaluated and assessed. If you play in a regular home game, ask yourself now what your reputation is at that table. Do they think you play too tight? Too loose? More importantly for our discussion here, you want to assess how your bluffing frequency is perceived by the table. Do they think you bluff too much? Not enough or never at all?

Just as you would use your opponents' excessive or insufficient bluffing against them, so too will a skilled player use yours against you. The frequency with which you bluff makes up the image with which you are viewed. As mentioned, getting caught bluffing isn't all bad. At least now, you create the doubt every time you raise that you might be bluffing again. So, there are good rules to go by. Allow the times you are caught bluffing to 'go on your record'. When you successfully bluff and nobody paid to see it, don't show your hand to the table; you don't need to show to collect the pot. But, most importantly, find the perfect balance between not bluffing enough and bluffing too much.

It is likely that you will want to avoid bluffing more times than not. Again, all that you need is the idea planted into the heads of your opponents that yours is a playing arsenal that includes the occasional bluff. You want doubt to result from your raises. You want the perfect balance to keep your opponents on their toes.

First Rule of Poker - Second Rule of Poker - Third Rule of Poker - Fourth Rule of Poker - Fifth Rule of Poker - Sixth Rule of Poker - Seventh Rule of Poker

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