How to Bluff in Poker


Any poker veteran will tell you that to be a good player you must think about many different things during the game. In this article, we will discuss three important psychological concepts that can mean the difference between bluffing and getting bluffed: tilts, tells, and reading hands and situations. With the right amount of practice and skill, you, too, can become a master bluffer. Let's get the ball rolling with an examination of "tilts."

When players make mistakes because something upsets them emotionally, it is called a "tilt" or "being on a tilt." An example is a player who is a huge favorite in a hand but loses to an opponent who hits a miracle card (often called a "bad beat"). That player becomes so emotionally upset that he/she begins to make bad decisions. Another instance that sometimes puts players on a tilt is when an opponent is loud, obnoxious, rude, or otherwise annoying. Players who are on a tilt react in many different ways with the most common being betting with weaker hands than usual. While it's important to realize when one of your opponents is on a tilt, it is more important to realize when you may be going on a tilt and figuring out how not to let your emotions get the best of you.

Recognizing when you are going on a tilt is easier for some than others. If you think you may have played on tilt but aren't sure, one way that may help you is to keep detailed records of your playing sessions. Something else to watch out for is if you start to consider playing weaker hands than you usually play after taking a couple bad beats.

Once you realize that you are going on a tilt, you must, of course, try to avoid it. Some players can avoid tilting by simply suppressing their emotions and concentrating more on the game. If you are too upset, it may be best to simply quit your current playing session. Some players will get up and take a short walk to clear their head before returning to the game. Some find that fresh air also helps. Try different things when you go on a tilt until you find which one works best for you.

When one of your opponents is on a tilt, remember a few things as you try to take advantage of the situation. Players on a tilt are often unpredictable, especially when deciding their starting hand. Entering the pot (the total amount that has been bet in a single game) with weaker hands than usual is the most common thing players on a tilt do. Another thing to remember is that players may realize what they are doing and correct it at any time. In addition, solid players may be trying to convince you they are on a tilt when they are not. Deception in poker is a frequent occurrence.

It is important to remember not to play weak hands in order to take advantage of the player on a tilt. The fish may become so tempting to you that you become a fish yourself.

Very similar to tilts are "tells." In the next section, we will look at the signs that can reveal a player's hand, intentions or mood.

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Reading Tells

When players act in a way that gives away something about their hand, it is called a "tell." Much like a tilt, it is important not only to recognize your opponents' tells but also to realize if you have any.

Some players' hands shake when they are placing a bet if they have a very strong hand, while other players' hands shake when they are bluffing. Some players act strong when they are weak and act weak when they are strong. These players will often bet aggressively by practically throwing their chips into the pot (the total amount bet in a single game) or even toward you in hopes that their show of strength will make you fold (quit the game).

Players who have a good starting pair in Hold'em--like AA or KK--will sometimes closely watch each other place their bet into the pot as if making sure that nobody shorts the pot. These players have already won the hand in their mind and want to make sure that they collect every last bet. And then there are some players who hold their breath when they have a strong hand.

There is an unlimited number of possible tells, for it is human nature to react in some way when excited, and everyone is different. Picking up tells on your opponents can be done only by paying attention to detail. So practice concentrating on your opponents as much as possible while hiding any tells you may have. Learning to control your emotions under many situations takes practice, but it is very important because poker is a game of information, and you don't want to give any more of it away than you have to. If you are able to, your game will certainly improve.

What if you are playing with a group of seasoned poker plays that know how to curb their tilts and hide their tells? We have tips for how to read various hands and situations in our next section.

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Reading Hands and Situations

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Don't always raise with these very strong starters.

Reading hands and situations is a skill that can be mastered only by practice and experience. Over time, you can read many players because they fall into patterns and become predictable. For instance, some players immediately raise before the with strong hands like AA, KK, and AK. These players reveal too much information about their playing styles to their opponents by always playing this way.

What you must constantly look for is betting patterns. Many players bet the same type of hands the same way every time. If you can pick up on their patterns, it will improve your game tremendously. One lesson to be learned from consistency is to occasionally vary your own play so an opponent can't easily read your hands. Usually making a play that is contrary to your normal playing style is only necessary about 5 percent of the time to keep your opponents guessing. This, however, is only necessary in a game with opponents who are paying attention. Poor players rarely notice anything you do out of the ordinary, so just play simple straightforward poker against them.

Another reason it is important to pay close attention to the game is so you will think back about how a hand has been played to the present. Has someone who has been checking and calling suddenly raised? You need to answer these questions in order to recognize and read situations at the poker table.

Poker is a thinking man's game. To be truly successful, you have to stay one step ahead of your opponents at all times. If you practice the tips and suggestions in this article, you will be able to read other poker players like an open book.

For more information on bluffing and other advice on how to win at poker, try the following tips: