Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bluff Better – Tell Me a Story

We’ve been discussing the politics of poker long enough, and since this will be the last post for a while (Spring Break starts this weekend and I’m working 17 days straight), I figured I’d get back to strategy.  And what’s more appropriate than a spirited conversation on bluffs?

Now I don’t mean that we should converse while we bluff, but we should “tell a story.”  For a bluff is nothing more than a good fable, and if you think back to your childhood (harder for some than others), you might easily recall one (or more) of your favorite bedtime stories…and what they had in common.

For me, my fave was “The Three Little Pigs.”  You know the story, so I won’t repeat it here, but it has all the makings of a classic – strong characters (on both the good and bad side), a compelling narrative with suspense, and an exciting climax.  And your bluffs should be the same way.

When you are telling your story, it has to be believable even though it’s not true.  Raising on the button is sooooo cliché – but raising one or two off the button might actually mean something other than “I’m stealing.”  A raise after one or two limpers can also mean something more, especially if you’re in one of the blinds.  At least, that’s the impression you want to give.

And when that Ace hits the flop, and they check to you, and you bet about two-thirds the pot like you have an Ace in your hand…that completes the story as if you’ve been telling them about the brick house (nice analogy, Mike) all along.

That’s when bluffs work – when they tell a predictable story and you complete the punch line.  When they don’t work is when no one is paying attention.  If you told the Three Little Pigs story to a bunch of 1st graders, you most likely will have their rapt attention.  If you told the same story to a bunch of college kids at a kegger…nah.  That’s why you can’t bluff donkeys – not because they don’t know about bluffs or are ignorant of playing strategy, but because they ARE NOT PAYING THE LEAST BIT ATTENTION TO YOU.

Another time they don’t work is when you’ve not made any kind of a lead-up to your punch line.  Traps fall into this category – how often have you seen a player check-call, check-call, and then, a scary card falls on the turn (completing a flush or straight) and they shove all-in?  What story is he telling, really?  Is it a bluff, or does he have the nuts?

And here’s where you come in…complete the story above.  Does he have it, or not?  And why do you feel the way you do?  Comment here, and we’ll discuss in a couple of weeks.


  1. Pareto 80/20. If the opponent is only bluffing 20% of the time, how good does your hand have to be to call the bluff?

  2. I'd say I can't answer because it would depend. What's the history with this player? Have they always bet big with the nuts? Do they frequently bluff, or claim to have it? Are they a calling station that hoped to get lucky and then did? More information is needed to make the right call, but if I didnb't have a history with the player and I was at risk I would give him credit for this one. But I would watch him carefully.