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How to Play Texas Hold'em Poker

Advanced Strategy: Bluffing

Bluffing is when you bet with an inferior hand hoping to cause your opponents to fold. There are very few good opportunities in low-limit Hold'em to bluff. Players at that level will call with almost anything because they are afraid to be bluffed out of a hand, and they populate low-limit Hold'em. As you advance to higher limits, including no-limit Hold'em, bluffing becomes an important weapon in a good player's arsenal.

What is most important for a beginning player to know about bluffing is that it is practically impossible to bluff more than two opponents out of a hand. There are, however, two bluffing situations that can improve your game: the
semibluff and bluffing when a scare card hits.

A semibluff is betting into a
pot when you don't know if you have the best hand but have a chance to improve to the best hand. For example: Your hole cards are J-T and the flop is T-8-7.

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Semibluffing with a pair of tens and several
draws can be a valuable strategy.

It is recommended that you bet into this pot as a semibluff. You have second pair (a pair of tens) and could be behind in the hand to a straight, a set, or a pair of jacks. The important thing to remember is that you can improve to a flush, straight, trips, or two pair on the turn or river. Your bet in this situation can result in four outcomes with three of them being good for you:
  • Everyone may fold, and you win the hand.

  • All but one or two opponents may fold, eliminating some drawing hands.

  • An opponent may reraise your bet.

  • All of your opponents may call.
The only result that is not immediately beneficial to you is the fourth one -- everyone calls (often called "flat calling"). Of course, if everyone folds, you win the pot. Eliminating opponents or reducing the field is also beneficial to your hand. You may be asking why being reraised in this situation is a good thing. The reraise provides you with a tremendous amount of information. Unless you are playing with a very loose player who raises every time he/she plays a hand, you are almost always beat at this time if you are reraised. This means that you now know that in order to win the hand you will have to improve on the turn or the river. You will use this information to decide if you want to call the reraise and also how to play your hand on the turn and the river.

It is almost always correct in limit Hold'em to call this reraise. The reason that flat calling is not a good outcome is you gain no further information. It does have a silver lining, for it builds the pot for the times that you do hit your hand on the turn.

Remember the discussion about maximizing your winnings; that is, call with the best hand (especially with a monster) in this situation in order to maximize the pot and save the raising until the turn when the bet size doubles. Making plays like these and realizing that your opponents, at least the good ones, are capable of making these plays will separate you from the average poker player. Many times it is correct to bet into a pot to gain information in this way. As you advance in skill level, you may even raise an opponent who bets into you on the flop as a semibluff to find out how good his/her hand is and possibly set up a bluff on the turn or river by showing strength. This play is not for beginners because it can cost you a large amount of money. So don't use it regularly until you have many hours of experience.

Bluffing when a scare card hits is another advanced play that many professionals use, especially in no-limit Hold'em. There is one rule that should always be followed when using this play: Never try it with more than one opponent in the hand. The chance of success is so small against two or more opponents that it will cost you money in the long run. Here's an example: Your hole cards are
A-T and the flop is T-K-4. The turn brings the 6.

Scare Card
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The 6 is the scare card because it opens up the possibility for a flush.

At this point you may have the best hand, but you may be up against a pair of kings or better. If any club hits on the river, this can be a good time to bluff. The club on the river makes a flush possible, and if you bet on the river, you are representing that you hit it. Notice that you have the ace of clubs, so even if your opponent has two clubs, he/she knows that you could have a higher flush. Also, an opponent holding a king is not happy to see the possible flush on the board. Another reason this is a good time to try this is that only one of the clubs was on the flop, so an opponent who started with two clubs probably folded his/her hand if they didn't have any other draws.

It is important to remember how the hand was played out because if everyone
checked on the flop, a player holding two clubs got a free look at the turn. This is an example of why betting into the flop as a semibluff is often correct. In this hand, if you had bet into the flop, any opponent holding two clubs with no other draws should have folded. Of course, in some low-limit Hold'em games, your opponents won't fold when they are supposed to. This is why you should never try this tactic against more than one opponent. When you do use it, you should be certain that your opponent is capable of folding if a scare card hits. Some players will never fold in this situation, and if you can identify them, you will save money by not trying to bluff them.

When bluffing, it is important to know who you're bluffing against. The different types of players are covered in the next section.

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