Why You Need To Bluff More To Win Big in Poker!

Why You Need To Bluff More To Win Big in Poker

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

Bluffing is arguably the most exciting part of the game of poker. There’s nothing quite like the rush of blowing your opponent out of a huge pot while holding absolute air. 

Yet a lot of poker players don’t bluff nearly as much as they should, or do so in the wrong situations.

If you’re a losing or a breakeven poker player, one of the reasons you might not have the results you want could be the fact that you’re not bluffing enough. 

This article will highlight some of the reasons bluffing is absolutely essential for your long term profitability, as well as show some situations in which it might be profitable to do so. 

1. Value Betting Alone is Not Enough to Win Big in Poker

If you’re playing poker against recreational players, the best strategy to employ is keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible. 

Only play strong hands in position and value bet them relentlessly. 

Following a simple tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy is more than enough to be a consistent long term winning poker player, particularly at the lower stakes.

The problem is, however, following this strategy alone isn’t enough to crush the game beyond belief. 

If you only ever rely on your hand strength alone, you can expect to be a breakeven player, or a small winner at best.

There are a couple of reasons for this. 

First of all, doing exactly the same as everyone else is doing is a recipe to get the same results as them. And most people actually lose money over the long run playing poker. 

Everyone knows by now that the best way to win playing poker is to just play tight, and some players treat this adage as gospel. 

They rarely, if ever bluff, wait around for the nuts all day, and hope some fish will be generous enough to pay them off. 

While this approach worked well back in the good old days where very few players had any clue what they were doing, it’s getting increasingly rare to find that sort of competition nowadays, unless you’re playing the very lowest stakes. 

And even those seem to get increasingly competitive lately. But if your goal is to win big money playing poker, grinding NL5 is probably not going to get you there. 

So if you’re playing higher stakes, learning to bluff effectively, and often, becomes a must.

While just playing tight can work wonders against the recreational players at NL5, it’s not going to cut it against the more skilled and observant competition. Here’s why.

Strong value hands don’t come around often in no limit Texas hold’em, so relying on them alone isn’t enough to beat other skilled players. 

If you just fold everything but the very strongest holdings, by the time you actually do get dealt pocket Aces or Kings, you might not even get any action with them. 

If you have a feeling your opponents always seem to fold when you get dealt a premium hand, you might be right. 

They might have figured you out, and you’re playing your cards face up, so to speak. If that’s the case, it’s a sure sign you need to start bluffing more.

Bluffing with non made hands, such as missed draws, for example, can help you improve your red line (or your non-showdown winnings) and consequently, your overall profitability. 

Working on improving non showdown winnings is one of the aspects of the game a lot of players could benefit from. 

The reason for this is you probably already know how to extract maximum value out of your strong value hands. 

It’s not rocket science by any means. If you think your hand is comfortably ahead of your opponent’s range, you just put as much money into the pot as soon as possible, and hope it holds up. 

Things get a lot more tricky if you don’t have a strong value hand, or any hand at all, and you’re wondering whether or not you should turn your hand into a bluff. 

While there are no hard and fast rules for this, as a general guideline, you should try to apply the pressure on your opponents throughout the hand, unless you have a good reason not to do so. 

As mentioned before, very strong value hands don’t come around often. If you missed the board, chances are your opponent missed it too. 

So if you think your opponent will fold more often than not, it’s usually a good idea to try to bluff them out of the hand. 

Some general reasons to refrain from bluffing would be the fact that your opponent doesn’t like to fold, or calls too much, or if you think the board connects well with their perceived range. 

You’re also better off bluffing if your own range is uncapped. An uncapped range is the one that can theoretically have more strong hands than a capped one, based on the actions taken in the hand. 

For example, an open-raiser preflop has an uncapped range, and a preflop caller has a capped range. 

The uncapped range is theoretically stronger, because a preflop caller probably would have 3-bet (re-raised) had they had a really strong hand like pocket Aces, Kings and so on. 

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If you’re bluffing with an uncapped range, it makes your bluff much more believable, because you are perceived to have much more strong hand combinations in your range. 

In other words, your bluff tells a believable story.

Example hand:

You are dealt A♠T♠ in the cutoff (CO)

You open-raise to 3x and the SB calls.

The flop is:


SB checks.

You: ???

You should c-bet.

This is a textbook spot where a c-bet is mandatory. 

You didn’t smash the flop by any means, but you still have a gutshot straight draw with any Queen, as well as backdoor flush draw (you need two more spades to complete your flush). 

You also have the initiative and range advantage, because remember, the preflop caller didn’t 3-bet, which eliminates a lot of hands from their range that could connect with the board, such as AK, pocket Kings, pocket Jacks and so on. 

A c-bet is not even necessarily a bluff in this case, because your Ace-high hand is even ahead of a large chunk of your opponents range. 

Also, your perceived range connects well with the board, and even if your opponent calls, you can keep applying the pressure on later streets, whether or not your draw completes or not. 

A number of outs you have makes this a great spot for semi-bluffing (i.e. you don’t have a strong hand yet, but could improve on later streets). 

Semi-bluffing is preferable to stone-cold bluffing, as you have more than one way to win the hand. 

You can either make your opponent fold right away, or you can take down an even bigger pot later if your draw completes.

This is discussed in a lot more detail in Modern Small Stakes.

2. Bluffing More Lets You Win More Than Your Fair Share

One thing that separates merely decent poker players from truly great ones is the fact that the latter constantly look for edges to exploit. 

If you pay attention, you might be surprised how many bluffing opportunities there are if you just dare to pull the trigger at the right time.

Truly great poker players win more than their fair share, and these tiny differences add up significantly over the long run.

This is something Nathan discussed in his recent "The Perfect Bluff" video.

They don’t look just to maximize their winnings when they have a strong value hand, they also look for opportunities to steal the pot when they don’t. 

After all, if all your opponents fold, your hand strength is irrelevant. If you know your opponent tends to overfold in certain situations, you need to increase your bluffing frequency.

This doesn’t need to work all of the time for it to be profitable.

For example, a lot of players will make a standard c-bet (a bet made by the previous street aggressor) on the flop with a wide range (meaning they will make a c-bet with their strong value hands, total air and everything in between). 

If you missed the flop completely, your first instinct is to fold (which isn’t necessarily the wrong play). 

But what if you raise instead? 

Granted, raising the flop against an uncapped range goes against the general rule that it’s better to bluff against capped ranges, but doing so occasionally has a couple of benefits.

In the previous example with raising the flop versus a c-bet, you can often win the pot outright without having a strong hand. 

Since a lot of players will have a lot of air in their range (especially on dry, uncoordinated boards), they won’t be likely to continue after you raise them, because this shows a lot of strength. 

Remember, they are just as likely to miss the board as you are, but since they raised preflop, they’ll often be compelled to make a c-bet just because it’s standard, but will be willing to back off if you fight back.

Example hand:

You are dealt 3♣3 on the BU

UTG open-raises to 3x. You call

Pot: 7.5 BB

The flop comes:


UTG bets 3.5 BB

You: ???

You should raise 9 BB.

Now, raising in this spot is not necessarily the most +EV play in a vacuum, but it does serve a purpose of keeping your opponents in check and potentially taking down a pot that you aren’t exactly owed. 

You missed the flop and didn’t hit your set. You are holding a fourth pair and most turn and river cards will make your hand even weaker. 

You have very little going for you in terms of showdown value, and you can’t really expect a cheap showdown at all. 

Still, your perceived calling range connects well with the board, as you could theoretically have a lot of middling pairs or suited connectors that could have hit big. 

Your opponent can theoretically have these hands in their range as well, but they are only a part of their overall range. 

They could have easily missed the flop completely as well, and often won’t be comfortable facing a raise on this kind of flop.

Now, if they come over the top with a re-raise, folding is the obvious play. 

But if they call, they might check the turn to you, fearing another raise, which allows you to get a free river card, and even a potentially cheap showdown. 

You can even spike a set and potentially take down a huge pot.

Now, obviously there’s nothing wrong with folding right on the flop. 

The point is there are a lot of situations where folding seems like an obvious choice, but there are alternatives, albeit unconventional ones. 

If nothing else, doing this keeps your opponents on their toes. This is something you must learn to do in order to succeed in higher stakes games as a poker pro.

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3. Bluffing Makes You More Difficult to Play Against

Making an unconventional play like in the example above will deter your opponents from betting into you with impunity. 

If you always fold all but your strongest holdings, your opponents will have no problem playing perfectly against you. 

They will continue applying the pressure on you instead of the other way around, and once you actually do have a hand to fight back with, they’ll be able to get away cheaply because they will know you probably have them beat. 

On the other hand, if you occasionally fire back at them, even without a strong hand, they will have to think twice about c-betting nearly a 100% of their range against you.

By the way, if you want to know how often they are c-betting vs you, just use a good free poker HUD. 

If you make it costly for them to get involved with you, you’ll have a lot more opportunities to exert pressure yourself, and deny them the opportunity to do so themselves.

Winning poker is aggressive poker. 

If you increase your aggression, not only will you be able to win a lot of medium-sized pots that nobody seems to be particularly interested in, you will also be able to extract more value once you actually do get dealt a monster hand. 

The more you bluff, the less fold equity you’re likely to have. (By the way, fold equity simply means the percentage of time your opponents will likely fold their hand). 

If you want your bluff to be successful, you obviously want more fold equity. 

So the ideal players to target would be the weak, passive players who don’t want to put any money in the pot unless they have a really strong hand, which they won’t most of the time. 

While you probably won’t make a ton of money playing against them, as they won’t often be inclined to pay you off, you can still chip away at their stack by looking for opportunities to take away more small and medium sized pots from them. 

The added benefit of doing so will be the fact they could become more likely to pay you off if you happen to wake up with a monster hand later in the session. 

If you manage to pull that off, you can be sure to get under their skin, which makes them more likely to make mistakes they otherwise wouldn’t make, just to “get even” with you.

This is another key part of an advanced winning poker strategy.

Final Thoughts

Bluffing in certain spots can feel uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not something you should do often just for the sake of it. 

At the end of the day, most of your money will still come from your strong value hands, as well as your opponent’s mistakes.

It doesn't matter how much high level poker strategy you study, this basic fact will always remain. 

However, once you start climbing the stakes, the overall skill level of your competition increases, and their mistakes aren’t as glaringly obvious or as costly as you might hope for. 

This means that getting paid with your strong value hands also becomes more difficult, so if you only rely on those, you can expect your winrate to plateau fairly quickly. 

The best way to counteract this is to look for alternative ways to win the pot, i.e. increase your non-showdown winnings. 

And the only way to do so is to become comfortable with bluffing in marginal situations. And let’s face it, most situations in poker are marginal anyway. 

This doesn’t mean you need to change your game drastically. It just means trying to actively look for spots where applying an extra bit of pressure could be profitable. 

Simply asking yourself a question like: “What happens if I bet/raise here?” can do wonders to your winrate.

Once you start looking, you’d be surprised how much “free money” there is out there. So in your next session, go ahead and pull that trigger once you miss your draw on the river. 

What’s the worst that can happen? You get looked up from time to time. If you’re never caught bluffing, you aren’t bluffing often enough.

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Why You Need To Bluff More To Win Big in Poker!