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More about Bluffing: Part VI

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jun 25, 2014


Steve ZolotowThere are many poker truths that are easy to state, but hard to actually execute at the table. Here are two that relate to bluffing.

1. How big should your bluffs be? They should be big enough to get the job done. Betting more than this is needlessly risking your money.

2. When should you bluff? You should bluff whenever your opponent is going to fold and never when he is going to call.

Perhaps these two pieces of advice should be called poker truisms or tautologies. Let’s look at them in a little detail. To make things simple, let’s assume you are against one opponent, who has checked, there are no more cards to come (at the river), and the pot is 100. If you bet for value and are called, you always win. If you bluff and are called, you always lose.

It should be intuitively obvious that if you make a very small bet, you opponent will almost always call. For example, if you bet 1, he is getting odds of 101-1, and will call. He might even be right to call with a hand that can’t beat anything, hoping for a split. Therefore, you should never bluff (okay, you should only bluff once in a hundred times or so). Likewise if you make a very large bet, your opponent will usually fold. For example, if you could bet 100,000, he would generally fold anything but the nuts. The amount in the pot is miniscule compared to the size of the bet. So he wants to call only when he will win the pot at least half of the time.

Even though the above analysis is pretty simplistic, it does point out a very important truth. Small bets should seldom be bluffs. Big bets should frequently be bluffs. In no case should you bluff more than half the time. If you did, your opponent could call every time and show a profit.

You are probably thinking that this is a waste of time. I’m never going to bet 1 or 100,000 when there is 100 in the pot. Now let’s examine some more realistic amounts you might want to bet. With a pot of 100, you might logically decide to bet half the pot (50), three-quarters of the pot (75), the pot (100), 1.5 times the pot (150), or even twice the pot (200.) Remember we have already determined a range for bluffing frequency.

It starts at almost never for miniscule bets and approaches 50 percent for huge bets. The bluffing frequency is the percentage of your bets that are bluffs. The rest of your bets are value bets. What should your frequencies be for value betting and bluffing?
Here is a table that gives you theoretical value betting and bluffing frequencies for these bet sizes.

% of Pot Bet Value Bet Bluffs
50 (1/2 pot) 75% 25%
75 70% 30%
100 (pot) 67% 33%
150 62% 38%
200 (twice pot) 60% 40%

Note that this table reflects the spectrum of bets we anticipated. Small bluffs should be made less frequently than large bluffs. It can never be right (theoretically) to bluff more than half the time.

I want to emphasize that this is all from a theoretical or idealized point of view. If you know your opponent folds too much, bluff more than this table suggests. If you know he calls too much, bluff less. There are some players who suspect that big bets are bluffs, but small bets are value bets. Against these players make big value bets and small bluffs. If you think your opponent is weak, forget about theory, go ahead and bluff. If you think there is a reasonable chance he is trapping or at least hoping you’ll bluff, then only make solid value bets, and never bluff. ♠

Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With 2 WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.