How Often Should You Bluff in Poker? Pro's Guide

How Often Should You Bluff in Poker?

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Bluffing is definitely one of the most exciting aspects of poker. So much so that it almost became synonymous with the whole game itself. 

And it’s no wonder. 

Nothing can quite get your juices flowing like successfully pushing your opponent out of a huge pot while holding complete air. It’s fun, exciting, and it makes you feel like a pro. 

In fact, a lot of people think this is exactly what makes someone a pro in the first place: their uncanny ability to look their opponents in the eye and pulling off a huge bluff without so much as breaking a sweat or raising their heartbeat. 

It has become almost mythologized to some extent, partially thanks to Hollywood and its tendency to take certain aspects of an experience and romanticize it, while conveniently leaving out the boring parts.

Alas, there is a lot more to poker than bluffing, contrary to the popular misguided belief. It is indeed an integral part of the game, but it’s just a part of the whole, and it’s not what actually separates the pros from the rest of us mere mortals.

In fact, professional poker players know that the majority of their money will actually come from the very opposite of bluffing, and that is value betting, i.e. betting with strong hands hoping to get action from second best hands. 

The biggest money making hands are often played very straightforwardly. This means professional poker sessions can seem even outright boring for your average recreational player: Wait for a good hand and get paid.

Is that really the whole story? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the skill? Where’s the competitive drama? 

When you play poker professionally, you rely on poker as your main source of income. This means you don’t play it for the same reason most people play. You play to make money. 

In that regard, it’s no different than any other job, except you aren’t guaranteed a paycheck at the end of the month. So you don’t have the luxury of pulling off all kinds of daring bluffs if it can jeopardize your bottom line.

This doesn’t mean not bluffing at all, of course. If bluffing was taken out of the equation, it would be a fundamentally different game, and would more closely resemble chess than a card game. 

So how often should you bluff in poker? Is there some sort of perfect ratio between bluffs and value bets? As is usually the case in poker, the only correct answer is it depends. 

Poker is an incredibly dynamic game, and you never play the same hand twice. 

There’s so many variables to take into account, and the answer can’t be as simple as saying: you should bluff 20% or 40% of the time in this and that spot, period. 

The better answer is that your bluffing frequency will be situational, i.e. you should bluff more in certain situations, and less in others. 


1. Keep it Simple And You Win


The first thing to consider is what type of opponent you’re up against. If you’re playing lower stakes and face a lot of loose recreational players, you really shouldn’t bluff often, or even at all. 

A lot of players make the mistake of trying to “outplay” their opponents, going for all kinds of deceptive lines and advanced plays, light 4-betting, triple-barrel bluffing, check-raising the river with a busted draw and so on. 

This is known as the fancy play syndrome (FPS) and can be absolutely detrimental to your results. It means deviating from the standard play and getting creative as opposed to just playing your hand straightforwardly. 

Just to be clear, making a standard play and playing straightforwardly 100% of the time is only going to get you so far in poker.

This is something that I touch on in my latest video about making $50 per day from poker.


Basically, if you aren’t willing to mix it up from time to time, you winrate will reach a plateau pretty quickly, as your more observant opponents will soon find ways to adapt to your play and start exploiting you. 

However, if you’re playing lower stakes, most players just don’t pay that much attention. 


In fact, the majority of the player pool at these stakes will fall neatly in these two categories: 

They will either be recreational players who will play way too many hands, call down too much and make all kinds of crazy mistakes, or regulars who will play ABC poker, i.e. playing straightforwardly and rarely getting out of line. 

It’s important to differentiate them as quickly as possible in order to adapt to their playing style most effectively.

Let’s start with the recreational players. 

While your typical fish will be the one who plays too many hands and calls too much instead of raising (i.e. loose and passive), it would be a huge mistake to assume they all play that way. 

What makes fish a fish is not the number of hands they play, but the number and severity of the mistakes they make, and playing too many hands is only one of the possible mistakes (albeit one of the most common ones). 

The reason why this is important is because no two players are exactly alike, so assuming all fish play the same and playing against them the same way can be a huge mistake. 

There is more than one type of fish, so you should adapt your strategy and your bluffing frequencies to them individually.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll break them down in three categories: 
  1. Calling stations
  2. Tagfish
  3. Maniacs

By the way, for a complete breakdown of every single poker player type (all 9) and the optimal strategies to beat each one of them, check out Modern Small Stakes.


2. Don’t Bluff The Calling Stations


A calling station is the quintessential fish, the easiest one to recognize and exploit. Playing against these kinds of players should be your bread and butter. 

This is the type of player you should rarely bluff, if ever. They are called calling stations for a reason.

When playing against them, you have close to 0% fold equity, so you should bet into them for value, and value only. 

There is a caveat here, however. There is a variant of a calling station that likes to see a lot of flops, but gives up a lot when they don’t connect with the board in some way (which would be most of the time). 

They are a fit-or-fold type of player, the one that will often play an absurd number of hands preflop, but give up quickly when they don’t connect with the flop. 

Bear in mind that the looser someone’s preflop range is, the harder it is to actually hit the flop in some meaningful way. 

Most hands miss most flop (about 2 out of 3 times), so when you dilute your preflop range a lot, you’re bound to miss even more often. 

So when you see someone playing a lot of hands preflop, but giving up easily postflop, you can actually bluff them profitably, but give up if they show some interest in the pot or fight back.

The way to go about it would be isolating them preflop with a big raise when they limp into the pot (which would be most of the time), and simply fire off a standard continuation bet on the flop when they check to you. 

You should c-bet dry boards, since there’s less chance that they hit the flop in any way. 

Also, you can go for a smaller c-bet size, because that way you’re risking less money, and if they fold approximately 2 out of 3 times, regardless of the c-bet size, there’s no sense in risking more than necessary. 

If you hit the flop, on the other hand, you can go for a bigger value bet size, and they’ll be none the wiser, since the only thing that interests them is their hand and their hand only. 

They won’t be overly concerned with your bet sizes, and they sure won’t notice the difference between your light c-bets and your value bets.

This is something that is discussed in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.


Example Bluffing Hand


Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt A♣J♣ in the CO.

A loose passive fish limps in UTG.
You raise to 4x. Fish calls.

Pot: 9.5 BB
Flop: T4♣2

Fish checks.
You: ???

You should bet 3.5 BB.

C-betting here isn’t necessarily a bluff at all, as your hand is actually ahead of the villain’s range a significant amount of time. 

Remember, bluffing means trying to get your opponent to fold a hand that’s better than yours, and that’s not the case here. 

However, it can’t be said that you’re betting purely for value either, as your hand didn’t connect with the flop.

So, now what? Should you just check behind instead? 

You shouldn’t. You have the initiative and a significant amount of equity with two overcards, and a backdoor straight and flush draw. 

Your opponent, on the other hand, could have missed completely, and since the board is quite dry, you can c-bet profitably, considering villain’s extremely wide preflop range. 

Sure, they can and will continue with a lot of nonsense, but not all is lost if they do, as you can still improve on later streets. 

Also, fish tend to be pretty inelastic, meaning the bet size doesn’t affect their calling frequency. If they connect with the board, they continue, and if they don’t, they give up, regardless of the bet size.

That’s why going for a smaller size c-bet is the best way to go. You can win the pot easily without risking too much, and not inflating the pot size too much if they do decide to continue.


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3. Bluff Easy Targets as Often as Possible


Next up, we have the Tagfish. While they will play a reasonable amount of hands, that’s about as far as their poker proficiency goes. 

By the way, if you don't know what a "Tagfish" is in poker, BlackRain79 already has the most comprehensive guide ever written to crushing this particular player type. 

Basically though, Tagfish have figured out that playing half of all hands is ill-advised, but they didn’t figure out the other part of a winning poker strategy yet, and that is playing aggressively.

Most of them think they are playing TAG strategy, while in reality they are weak and timid postflop, and will give up a lot if you give them any trouble.

They will only play extremely strong hands aggressively, and if they start raising you postflop, especially on big money streets (turn and river), they are pretty much guaranteed to have a monster hand. 

This is the type of player you should bluff the most. BlackRain79 has discussed this in many videos such as this one:


You won’t be able to extract a lot of value from them with your strong hands, because they will simply give up too often. This is where getting out of line can benefit you the most. 

You should hammer in on them every chance you get, especially if you have position on them. You should 3-bet them light and double/triple barrel them postflop every chance you get. 


The reason you can get away with this against them is twofold: 

First of all, making a strong hand in poker is relatively rare, so your opponents will miss the board as often as you, and secondly, this type of player simply won’t have the heart to call you down, even if they think you’re bluffing.

They will just let you have it this time, and wait for a better spot.

In today’s games, it’s not enough just to sit down at a table next to a huge whale, wait around for the nuts all day and take all the money they seem so eager to give away. 

There simply aren't as many of these whales to go around, and even if there are, you aren’t the only one to get wise and try to take their money. So are all the other regs. 

So you have to be willing to go after all the smaller fish as well. You should diversify your targets and ideally learn to take money from all the players, not just the fish. 

And to do so you will have to bluff more, because as we’ve said, really strong hands simply don’t come around as often to rely on those alone.


Example Bluffing Hand


Effective stack size: 100 BB.

You are dealt A4 in the SB.
Tight and passive villain open-raises on the BU to 2.5 BB.
You 3-bet to 10 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 21 BB
Flop: T♠52
You Bet 10 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 41 BB
Turn: 8
You bet 20 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 81 BB
River: K♣

You: ???

You should shove all in.

This is a high risk play, but if you are able to pull it off just once in a session, it can do wonders for your winrate, as most players just wouldn’t have the nerve to do it.

It won't work 100% of the time, of course, but even if you do get called, it will be great for your table image. 

If you aren’t comfortable getting your whole stack in the middle with complete air, it’s totally understandable, and it isn’t something you should try to do too often, anyway.

But you should at least try to look for spots to do it on certain board runouts and against certain types of players, as is the case in the example above. Let’s break it down street by street.

Villain open-raises on the button, and you 3-bet light with a great speculative hand. Villain calls, so you expect he has something playable at least, though you can’t narrow down his range too much at this point.

You flop a gutshot straight draw on a board that doesn’t particularly favour the villain's calling range, so you fire off a standard half-pot c-bet. Villain calls, so you narrow down his range to Tx hands, flush draws, middle pocket pairs etc. 

Turn doesn’t change much, except it puts a couple of possible straight draws on the board. 

You still believe you can push your opponent out of the pot based on your previous history, so you decide to double barrel, as you still have some outs left (namely Aces and Threes).

Unfortunately, you don’t improve on the river, and you’re left with a busted draw. In this spot, most players will just check and hope the villain does the same and maybe even win at showdown with Ace-high, or check-fold to villain’s bet. 

This is certainly the safest course of action. But let’s consider the alternative.

By shoving all-in, you’re putting tremendous pressure on your opponent, and are giving yourself the most fold equity against him. 

The King is a scare card, and if they hold a Tx hand, for example, it will be really hard for him to hero call such a large bet. 

Considering his passive actions, you put him on a mediocre or a drawing hand, and the river didn’t complete any straight or flush draws he could have.

On the other hand, your actions signify incredible strength. You went for a 3-bet preflop, then barreled every street.

In other words, this is the "story" you are telling as BlackRain79 discusses in much more detail in The Micro Stakes Playbook.  

Therefore, the villain might conclude that you are either way ahead or way behind (i.e. you either have a monster hand or a complete bluff), but when in doubt, he’ll err on the side of caution.

Again, this kind of play can only be employed against weak and timid opponents. Doing so against calling stations is a recipe for disaster, so use your judgment. 

Also, if the villain snaps you with a set, don’t beat yourself too much about it. 

If you make your decisions from an informed perspective and think through villain’s range, but it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. 

Poker is about risk management, and you should be willing to risk being wrong sometimes. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.


4. Don’t Try to Outbluff The Maniacs


One last type of fish to consider is the one that can be most frustrating to play against, the dreaded aggrofish or maniac.

It might be tempting to try and bluff these players and show them you won’t be pushed around. After all, they have so much garbage in their range a large majority of the time, so if I raise or reraise them, they have to fold, right?

Wrong.

The problem with this kind of logic is you’re trying to apply reason to a behaviour that is completely unreasonable. 

Fighting back against mindless aggression can be warranted in some situations, but it can also backfire disastrously.

How Often Should You Bluff in Poker?

Don’t get sucked into the madness, however infuriating it might be to fold for the umpteenth time in a row, even though you know the guy is bluffing.

Just a disclaimer, though. I’m not saying not to call down these guys with marginal holdings if you suspect they’re full of it. You can and should do that. 

In fact, this is the best way to play against them. You just have to back your judgment and call them down with less than ideal holdings, such as top pair weak kicker, second pair and so on. 

You shouldn’t just wait around for Aces and hope to trap them, because by the time you actually have a good hand, they might spew off their chips to someone else already.

What you shouldn’t do is try to fight back against them just to show them who’s boss. It’s like fighting fire with fire. 

If you fight back with complete air and they call you down with something ludicrous like third pair or two pair on a wet board, you’re going to look silly and they’ll look like a genius, which will make you even more frustrated and down the tilt rabbit hole we go. 

Don’t let them get the best of you. It’s like boxing. You will have to endure getting jabbed a few times, but eventually, you’ll get the opportunity for the knockout punch. 

Don’t just go flailing about hoping to outpunch someone who’s already coming after you. Bide your time, and when the opportunity arises, take a deep breath and call them down.

Check out BlackRain79's 15 proven ways to beat the micro stakes for much more on this.


5. Bluff The Predictable Regs as Well


What about bluffing the regulars? 

This is where things get a little trickier, because not only will you be up against opposition who will be aggressive themselves, but they will also pick up on your bluffs if you don’t execute them properly. 

Therefore, it’s important to recognize which players play closer to the straightforward ABC style, as they will be the ideal candidates for you to bluff more frequently. 

Similar to the tagfish, they won’t get out of line too much, and won’t be willing to call you down in a lot of marginal situations.

And as we all know, most situations in poker are marginal. Rarely is the case that you can comfortably assume your hand is ahead 100% of the time.

And even though solid regs can be significant long term winners, most of them aren’t world class experts by any means, especially at the lower stakes. 

They play to win, and they are fully aware that winning poker at the lower stakes is more about discipline than skill.

In practice, this usually means playing lower variance style, i.e. focusing on minimizing the number of mistakes and not getting out of line too often. So they won’t be particularly inclined to make some daring bluffs and/or hero calls. 

And this is where your opportunity lies. 

You can get away with bluffing them more frequently, because they don’t want to risk being wrong and jeopardize hours worth of their grinding. 

You just have to be careful that if you do decide to bluff, you do so from an informed standpoint, not just deciding it out of the blue in the middle of the hand.

You have to make sure your bluff tells a believable story. You do so by playing the hand in reverse, and asking yourself would you play your strong value hands the same way you played your bluff. 

If the answer is no, you’re better off not doing it. 

Your more observant opponents will realize your story doesn’t add up, so you have to make it look like a value bet. 

This means your previous action, the bet size and the timing indicate you have a strong hand. So consider using the same bet size you would use if you were betting for value. 

Here is a mental trick you can use: Imagine yourself actually holding a monster hand, and then play it accordingly. 

Bluffing is essentially acting, so you have to totally immerse yourself in the role in order to pull it off believably. Otherwise, your opponents will see right through it.

By the way, for much more, check out BlackRain79's 10 easy ways to tell if somebody is trying to bluff you.


Summary


Bluffing is arguably the most fun aspect of poker. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of rush and excitement. The only thing better is actually winning money. 

So when you do bluff, you should approach it with a dose of rational detachment, not just do it for the sake of it.

As to how often you should do it, it depends on what you want. If you want to have fun, then the answer is as much as possible. If you want to make money, less so.

Because the fact is that most of your winnings in your poker career won’t come from pulling off some daring bluff, especially if you’re starting off at the lower stakes.

Although, it will definitely play a key role as part of an advanced poker strategy as you move up the stakes.  

But at the lower limits, bluffing too much is often just about one of the worst things you can do for your winrate, especially if you’re playing online. 

Online games are notably tighter than their live counterparts. 

The reason for it is they play much faster, as you can put in an insane volume over a shorter time with multitabling, so people tend to be more selective with the hands they play, because they don’t have to wait around for them as long. 

What this means in practice is that there simply isn’t as much bluffing going on. After all, why would you risk your money on marginal spots when there’s a monster hand just waiting around the corner? 

However, that’s not to say there’s no place for bluffing in online poker. If you’re only ever betting for value and playing straightforwardly 100% of the time, your winrate will reach a plateau quite quickly. 

Even the fish will pick up on what you’re doing eventually.

Besides, strong value hands simply don’t come around as often, so if you’re only relying on those to keep afloat, you’re in for a rough ride, especially since the games are getting increasingly competitive by the day.

So how often should you bluff? It mostly depends on the type of the opponent you’re up against.

If you’re playing against a table full of beginner poker players, first of all, count your blessings, as these tables are so few and far in between in today’s games, with the sole exception of the lowest stakes like NL2 and maybe Nl5 if you’re lucky. 

In those games, you can bluff close to never and just count your money.

If you are up against weak and timid opponents, you should hammer in on them as often as possible and try to get them riled up and steaming. 

That way, when you actually do have a monster hand, they’ll basically donate their money to you. If you encounter wild and erratic opponents, don’t try to outbluff them. It’s like fighting fire with fire. 

Instead, just call them down wider than you normally would and let them hang themselves with their maniacal ways.

And finally, against more solid regulars, your bluffing frequency will also depend on which side of the spectrum they lean towards. 

If they are on the nitty side of the spectrum, attack them as you would the tight passive opponents, and if they are on the laggy side, call them down wider.

It goes without saying that you should exercise caution, and remember that you should never do anything, bluffing included, just because. 

Know why you are doing what you are doing, and don’t be overly concerned with how often you should do X, Y or Z.

Just focus on making the best possible decisions in every hand you play, and if that means overbet jamming the river with complete air, by all means go for it. Remember what they say, a pair of balls beats everything.

Lastly, for lots more advanced bluffing strategies make sure you grab a copy of the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet.

How Often Should You Bluff in Poker?