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The Lying Game

This is the part where we look at the different questions you have to ask yourself before you instigate a bluff to make sure your opponents will have absolutely no idea that you are lying through your teeth!

Lets think about the different circumstances that might allow you to make a successful bluff or catch an unconvincing one. There are many questions to ask, and success often involves making a split second appraisal of all the information and deciding on a course of action, which is why poker is so much fun.

The following are the most important questions in poker:

What does your opponent have and what do they think you have?

If you were able to answer these questions, you would be unbeatable. However, aspiration is the best you can do, so remember from the outset that successful poker (and successful bluffing) revolves around you reading your opponent's hand and disguising your own.

What type of game is it and how many players are there?

The fewer players there are in a game or hand, the more bluffing becomes an option. Similarly, if you can make big bets as in no-limit hold'em, bluffing is much more likely to succeed than in limit hold'em. If you want to get a real feel for this aspect of the game, log on to one of the many on line sites that offer heads-up [that is, one-on-one) no-limit hold'em tournaments and play a few. You'll soon find that waiting for a great hand and anteing away your chips is no fun, whereas raising, bluffing or calling with almost any two cards is a great way of sharpening your instincts as well as giving you a real thrill.

What positions do your opponents occupy?

If you're in position, of course, bluffing is a potent weapon, as you hold all the power in the hand. If you're not in position though, your play should be more defensive unless you're sure of exactly what is going on or you have a great hand.

What is your table image?

While you have been watching and assessing all the other players in the game, it is most likely that they have been doing exactly the same to you. So if you have a tight-cautious image, you're much more likely to be able to bluff successfully (and be the targets of bluffs) whereas if you have been playing fast and loose, or have been caught bluffing recently, the opposite is true.

Is the bluff convincing?

Against weak, bluffable opponents, the chances are you won't have to bet much or with great thought to win a hand with nothing. However, against good players, who understand the game and who are often fearless, you need to make a bluff convincing and think it out incisively, representing a specific hand and playing exactly as you would if you were actually holding it. This could mean sticking your neck out with a large all-in or facing a hand you suspect might be a bluff for big money. There really is little margin for error here! At this point, there is usually a lot to consider. All it comes down to really is whether you believe the player who is putting you to the test, and if not, have the heart to follow your instincts and make a great call, or whether from the other side of the issue you believe you can put a move on an opponent.

Am I getting in too deep?

Remember that what you think may be a great move may be about to land you in someone else's trap. Always think about how much damage it may do you, if you get it wrong and play into someone else's hands or bottle it along the way and make your actions transparent. For this reason, check-raising with marginal hands, making big bluffs on the end etc aren't recommended for poker beginners. Similarly you should be trying to condition the other players to get out of line in these ways when you do have a hand.

How big is the bet?

Whether bluffing or facing a potential bluff in no limit hold'em, this is one of the key pieces of information to consider. If you bet too little in relation to the size of the pot, you are more likely to get called, while if you over-bet, the odds you give the opposition are so slight that they are likely to fold all but the best hands. However, skilful players know this and often reverse or randomise the bet size to add an element of confusion to the proceedings, and many great players are capable of putting in enormous bets and being equally likely to have the nuts or nothing.

What are the stack sizes?

Stack sizes are particularly important in a tournament when considering a bluff. Tournament chips change value throughout the event-if you win all the chips, you'll likely only get about 30 - 50% of the money, but if you lose your £100 buy-in, then the chips cost that plus your entry fee. As such, big stacks can bluff and call bluffs easily but short stacks can't, and you should play accordingly. Remember though, that some very short stacked players may call out in desperation, and that if you have a lot of chips in reserve and aren't afraid to use them, you can still bully your way to winning a lot of pots even against moderate or big stacks.

What's the texture of the board?

It is sometimes difficult to bluff successfully when there are lots of draws on the flop or when you raise pre-flop and the flop comes all small cards. In the first instance you might get called by a draw or a made hand; in the second, your opponent might stay with you unless they are convinced you have a big pair. By contrast, scare cards can be a great chance to bluff - if your opponent seems to really hate the Ace that came on the flop, the chances are that you can successfully represent it, and the same is true if the turn or river card looks to have completed a flush or straight draw.

Is it a bluff or a value bet? 

This is particularly important on the river, when there are no more cards to come. It is essential to your success that you learn to get a high percentage of these calls correct, and make the right decision if you have the option to bet. Again there is no other easy way of doing this, only by experience, but this is a great aspect of your game on which to work, as you'll always be considering the play of a complete hand and have all the info that goes with it, as well as being able to rule out the possibility of semi bluffs.


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