Column Rolf: About bluffing: Differences & Adjustments

Deze column is afkomstig uit Rolf Slotboom’s nieuwe boek “Secrets of Professional Poker, Vol. 1”. Meer informatie, reviews, en directe bestellinks (soms met flinke korting) zijn beschikbaar op

Key Point:
Know that the bluff has a much higher chance of success than in limit, but keep in mind that the costs of failure are also much higher

When people talk about no-limit hold’em as opposed to limit, you will always hear them say the same things: “It is much easier to protect your hand here.” “You cannot bluff in limit, but you can in no-limit.” Both of these statements are only partially true in my opinion. Yes, it is easier to protect your hand when you can choose to bet any amount that you wish, but you should be aware that protecting your hand is not always your main objective in poker. Often, your goal should be to maximize your wins on a hand and at the same time try to minimize your losses. Now, those who focus on this “protect your hand” thing too much, forget that rather frequently it is actually great to have four or five people calling you – especially when you either have a very strong made hand, or when you have a premium draw where you’ve got lots of nut outs. The same holds true for this other adage, that you cannot bluff in limit poker, but you can in no-limit. Again, this is only a small part of the truth. Yes, it is much harder to bluff in limit, but one should never forget that in the few cases where you actually succeed in making the better hands fold, the reward will be enormous. If you are able to steal an entire pot while putting just one flat bet at risk for it, then it should be clear that from a risk / reward point of view your bluff does not have to succeed very often to still make a significant overall profit. And yes, in no-limit you may indeed be able to bet your opponents even off fairly decent hands simply because of the size of your bet (an option you don’t have in limit), but the downside is that when for whatever reason this bluff of yours fails, you may have lost a whole lot of money this way.

What’s important is that you should correctly analyze (in both betting structures) the chances of getting away with a bluff as opposed to the costs. In addition to this, you should try to find the optimum betting strategy when going for a bluff in no-limit, taking into account the texture of the board, the tendencies of your opponents, and also your own image. In some cases, against certain boards, and against certain types of opponents, a small bet in no-limit may have just as much chance of successfully stealing a pot as a large bet does. You will have to find the situations where this may be the case, in order to minimize your losses because of your failed (semi-) bluff attempts, and to maximize your long-term expectation in the game because of these bluffs of yours that have been successful.

Let’s analyze a few examples. Let’s say you have raised preflop, and now the flop comes QQA. If you are heads up, a bet of about half the pot, and probably a bit less, may be just as successful and just as scary as a full pot bet. So, when trying to pull off a bluff, it may actually be better to come out betting with a bet that seems to imply “please call me” than a big bet that shows a lot of fear – a bet that good players may find “suspicious”.

Another example. You have called a decent raise before the flop against what very much looks like a big pair. I will leave your exact hand for what it is, because it is not exactly relevant in this example. Let’s say the flop comes J?9?3?, your opponent has bet the pot and you have called. The turn comes a very scary-looking T? and your opponent now makes a fairly small bet that you have analyzed as a feeler bet but could also be the ace-high flush for example. In this case, just doubling his bet may be your best option rather than making a large raise – assuming that you don’t have much, really. If your opponent’s bet was indeed a feeler bet, you know he is not going to call you, especially because you are making a bet that seems to be wanting a call, a bet that shows a whole lot of strength. At the same time, if you raise big, you will probably just get called when you are beat. So, this is a situation where you can go for a “cheap” bluff or semi-bluff, because the texture of the board makes these kinds of bets look very strong rather than weak. If you raise big, you will now get called only when you are beat, and the likelihood of pulling off that bluff has not increased a lot because of this much bigger bet of yours.

Now please note that this is the kind of play that will often work against good players, against thinking players. With all the experience they have, they usually expect people who hold monster hands to try to “sell” their hand. They have a tendency to give you credit for what you are representing when it seems you are “milking” them. At the same time, they tend to become deeply suspicious when someone comes out with a huge overbet in an either / or situation, where either you have the hand you represent or you don’t – and if you do, you almost hold a certain winner. The boards that present these kinds of either / or situations are paired boards (especially paired boards with two aces on it), boards that scream for a slowplay, or boards with three or four of a suit, where if you really got what you are representing, your opponents won’t have a chance.

But these plays won’t work well against weak players. Weak players often fail to see the strength that these minimum bets and raises represent in the situation here. Or, maybe they just don’t have the guts to fold a decent hand now that calling seems so “cheap” to them. Against these kinds of players, you will have to do the obvious: bet or raise big when you want them out, and bet or raise small when you want to keep them in. But against good players, you often use reverse psychology. You can sometimes pull off a bluff against good players by making a small bet, and at the same time you can often get them to pay you off when you have the nuts, just because your massive overbet looked suspicious to them.

So, always know who you are up against. Try to figure out how they are thinking, and then use this knowledge to your advantage by luring them into making mistakes – either by making them pay off when they should have folded, or by making them fold when they should have called.

Rolf’s Rule No. 9:
A lot of poker authorities say that it is easier to bluff a good player than it is to bluff a weak player. They are only partially right. The best players to bluff are the ones who THINK their reads are good, but who instead don’t think on a deep enough level about the implications of the board, and about how you WOULD have played the hand if you really had what you are representing.

Iedere week verschijnt de column van Rolf Slotboom op PokerCity. Rolf is een van Nederlands beste pokerspelers en tevens een internationaal gewaardeerd schrijver van pokerboeken en artikelen.


  1. FYI: Volgende week donderdag is het laatste book excerpt. Daarna houdt het op. 🙂

  2. FYI: Volgende week donderdag is het laatste book excerpt. Daarna houdt het op. 🙂

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