3 Bad Bluffs That Are Costing You Money (Avoid This!)

3 Bad Bluffs That Are Costing You Money

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

While Hollywood would have you believe that it takes no more than nerves of steel and an unwavering poker face to pull off a huge bluff, there’s a lot more to it.

Bluffing in poker is a complicated subject, and there are a lot of factors to consider whether or not you should bluff in certain spots. 

Since there are no absolute rules as to when and how you should bluff in poker, it might be more useful to flip the script, and try to figure out when NOT to bluff.

Avoiding mistakes when playing poker is already winning half the battle. 

Since bluffing at the wrong time can be one of the most costly mistakes you can make, it pays to learn how to avoid these situations altogether.

This article will take a look at 3 such bad bluffing situations you should avoid at all costs.

1. Bluffing Against Poker Fish

Using advanced bluffing techniques against recreational players is the single best way to lose money playing poker. 

If you want to quickly improve your poker results, stop bluffing against recreational players, period. 

No matter how well thought out your bluff is, no matter the bet sizing you use, no matter how credibly you can “rep” a monster hand, a fish is going to call you down with their third pair, Ace-high, or something else equally ludicrous. 

The point of bluffing is to get stronger hands than yours to fold. By this very definition, bluffing against recreational players is a bad idea. 

If they have anything remotely playable, they won’t be inclined to part with their hand. 

They will call you down with incorrect pot odds, with very few outs, with weak draws, or even a combination of these.

Sometimes they will call you down just because. 

When someone acts like this, applying the logic of them needing to act a certain way (i.e. fold) because it’s a rational thing to do, that in itself a foolish conclusion. 

Just because you would act in a certain way in a certain situation, it doesn’t mean other people would act the same, even if it’s objectively in their best interest.

And even then, you can’t assume everyone acts as a rational agent. When you play poker, your primary objective is (presumably) to win money. 

You want to have fun too, to be sure, but you’re willing to endure a bit of boredom if it increases your chance of winning in the long run. 

Recreational players don’t act the same way. It’s just the opposite. They’re willing to sacrifice a bit of money to have more fun, right now. 

Folding is boring. Making a huge hero call or hitting your miracle river card is exciting. 

Calculating the pot odds, the implied odds, thinking through your opponents ranges, and making begrudging, but disciplined laydowns is boring. 

Looking your opponent in the eye and calling them down relying on nothing more than a gut feeling and sheer audacity is a Hollywood moment. 

Risking a bit of money for the prospect of being a triumphant protagonist in your own ill-conceived narrative is well worth it. 

Aside from the fish psychology, there are other, more technical reasons why bluffing against recreational players is a bad idea. 

Some of them have been previously touched upon briefly, but warrant further examination.

A) Fish don’t care about the math. 

Recreational players don’t base their decisions on odds and probabilities, which poker is actually all about. 

In fact, a lot of them view the game of poker as pure gambling, so they think that it’s all luck, anyway. 

Concepts like expected value are completely foreign to them, and even if they heard of it, they don’t particularly care about it.

This is discussed in a lot more detail in the "Fish Psychology" section near the end of Crushing the Microstakes.

Your understanding of the game is not how they view the game!

B) Fish hate folding. 

Recreational players play poker for fun, and they want in on the action. Folding means not playing, and in their minds, you can’t win if you don’t play. 

While that’s technically true, it’s missing the point. You can’t win if you don’t play, but you can’t lose, either. 

And contrary to their misguided belief, the more you play, the more you lose, due to the simple fact that most hands miss most flops, and most draws don’t complete. 

C) Fish only care about their absolute hand strength. 

Recreational players don’t care about the board runout when making their decisions. 

They are only concerned with their two hole cards. If they have what they perceive to be a strong hand, they won’t be inclined to part with it. 

They won’t fold their straights, flushes, and will never, ever fold a full house, no matter what the board looks like, and no matter how relatively weak their hand is.

2. Bluffing on Wet, Coordinated Boards

Bluffing is more likely to be successful if your opponent didn’t connect with the board in a meaningful way. Knowing whether or not that’s the case is impossible, since you can’t see your opponent’s hole cards.

However, you can see the board runout, and try to infer how well it connects with your opponent’s perceived range.

As a rule of thumb, the more coordinated the board runout, the less inclined you should be to bluff, because there’s more ways your opponent could have connected with the board. 

Conversely, the drier the board, the more likely your bluff is to work, because your opponent could have a lot of missed draws in their range, for example.

An example of a dry, uncoordinated board:


An example of a wet, coordinated board:


You should especially avoid bluffing on wet boards if your opponent is a recreational player. 

That’s because recreational players tend to be overly focused on their absolute hand strength, while disregarding the relative hand strength. 

The absolute hand strength means how strong your hand is in the overall hand ranking. For example, a fish will reason that a pair is weak, while a full house is very strong. 

The relative hand strength, on the other hand, takes into account other factors like the board runout. 

A two pair hand is fairly strong on the example board #1, but it’s pitifully weak on the board #2. 

Fish often disregard the relative hand strength, and cling on to hands they perceive to be strong, like straights, flushes and so on. 

They’ll often chase bad draws, like the low end of a straight or weak flushes, and will play them to the bitter end. 

By the way, learning to avoid chasing bad draws is one of the 3 simple things ANYONE can do to start getting better results in poker, as Nathan discussed in a recent video.

But anyways, trying to “rep” a stronger hand versus these kind of players is often futile. It’s also worth noting here that bluffing is a subjective term, and it’s largely context dependent. 

A hand you’re trying to bluff a tight regular with can be the same hand that you could be light value betting with against a huge calling station (you are light value betting when you think your hand is a favourite to win, but not by a huge margin).

Here’s an example to illustrate the point:

You are dealt K♣J♣ on the BU and get called by a player in the big blind.

Board: A♣K8♣52

You bet the flop. Villain calls. You bet the turn. Villain calls. What do you do on the river?

The answer: it depends mostly on the type of opponent you’re up against. If you’re up against a very tight opponent, you could fire a third shell on the river as a bluff. 

There’s a bunch of missed draws on the board, and the villain very well may fold to a triple barrel.

You’ve bet all three streets, so the villain can reasonably assume you’ve got something to show for it. You only have a second pair, but the villain might even fold some Ax hands in their range.

Whether or not you should bet the river in this spot is debatable, but if you do, you’re essentially turning your hand into a bluff. 

You can’t really bet for value, because the villain is unlikely to call you with worse hands.

Now, let’s assume the situation is exactly the same, but you’re up against a huge calling station. You’ve seen this player get to showdown with all sorts of nonsense, like Ace-high hands, third pair and so on. 

If you bet the river against this particular player, you’re not bluffing, but thin value betting.

There is a deep dive video on thin value betting by the way in the river section of the brand new BlackRain79 Elite Poker University.

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But getting back to the discussion, you have a reason to believe they can call you with worse hands, like weaker Kings or pocket pairs they get irrationally attached to like pocket Tens or Nines. 

Sure, they might have an Ace, but based on previous history and their tendencies, you can assume that’s only a part of their range.

This is just an example to show how bluffing is largely dependent on the type of opponent you’re up against. 

No two spots are the same. The bottom line is, you need to be careful when deciding to turn your hand into a bluff, especially on wet board runouts. 

If you think you can credibly represent a stronger hand AND your opponent is actually capable of folding, go for it. 

If not, it’s better to either hope for a cheap showdown, or just cut your losses. 

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3. Bluffing Against Uncapped Ranges

The point of bluffing is to get your opponents to fold, which they’re more likely to do when they have a weak or mediocre hand. 

So it doesn’t make sense to try to bluff players that have shown strength some time in the hand. 

What you want to do instead is to attack players that have displayed an upper limit of their hand strength based on the actions taken in the hand. 

In other words, you want to bluff more against players with capped ranges, and avoid bluffing players with uncapped ranges.

This is a central theme in my recent article on 5 online poker strategies that actually work.

A capped range theoretically has less strong hands in it than the uncapped range, i.e. there’s an upper limit to the strong hand combinations in a range. 

A player with an uncapped range has the so-called range advantage.

For example, let’s say you open-raise from the button, and your opponent calls you from the big blind.

You have an uncapped range, because you can theoretically have all the premium hands in your range, like pocket Aces, Kings, Ace-King and so on. 

Conversely, your opponent’s range is capped, because they didn’t 3-bet (re-raised). Had they had a really strong hand, they would have re-raised. 

This means you can exclude very strong hands from their range (like premium pairs, Ace-King, probably Ace-Queen and so on).

Now, how do these ranges relate to bluffing? It’s quite simple: your bluffs are more likely to be successful when you have the range advantage. 

On the other hand, bluffing without the range advantage is less likely to work, because your bluff doesn’t tell a believable story. 

It’s harder to credibly represent a strong hand without the range advantage, and your opponent might pick up on the fact that something just doesn’t add up. 

That’s why donk betting is usually not a good idea, and it’s a sign of a recreational player more often than not. 

Simply put, a donk bet is a bet made against the previous street's aggressor. 

It’s kind of the opposite of a continuation bet (or c-bet for short) where the previous street’s aggressor continues betting (hence the term continuation bet).

In the previous example where you raise on the button, if your opponent bets into you on the flop, that would be an example of a donk bet. 

If they check and you bet, that’s called a c-bet.

The reason why donk betting is usually a bad idea is that it disrupts the natural flow of action, so to speak. 

You are betting out of position AND you’re not the one that’s perceived to have a stronger hand (you don’t have the range advantage). 

Donk betting as a bluff is an especially bad idea, because the point of bluffing is to get your opponent to fold. 

This is an unlikely scenario because: 

A) they’ve already shown strength, meaning they have at least something playable

B) they have the positional advantage, so they can call you with a wider range and 

C) your story doesn’t add up, so they have very little incentive to fold. 

If you’re still keen on trying to push your opponent out of the pot with a bluff, a far better option is to check-raise instead. 

Check-raising is a very powerful play, and it can only be done out of position. 

In fact, a great way to mitigate the negative effects of positional disadvantage is to incorporate an occasional check-raise into your arsenal. 

You can check-raise for value, as a semi-bluff, or even a stone-cold bluff.

Check-raising screams strength, and it’s a great way to take the initiative away from your opponent. If they call your check-raise, now you’re the one with the range advantage and the initiative. 

Now, the same thing can be said for donk betting, so you might wonder what’s the difference. 

The difference is in the fact that check-raising is perceived to be stronger than donk-betting. Players usually check-raise with a far stronger range than they donk-bet with. 

Also, it takes a stronger hand to call a check-raise than it does to call a donk bet. And since we’re talking about bluffing here, check-raising is therefore far more effective in this regard. 

For more, check out my recent article on the simple strategy to make $100 an hour playing poker.


The goal of bluffing is to get stronger hands than yours to fold. Whether or not you succeed in this regard has a lot to do with the type of opponent you are up against. 

You only want to bluff against players that are actually capable of folding.

That’s usually not the case with recreational players. In fact, your advanced poker strategy will often just go right over their heads.

You are better off just keeping it as simple as possible at the poker tables vs the fishy players.

I’m not saying you should never bluff against fish in any circumstances whatsoever, but keep in mind that fish love hero calling, chasing all kinds of ludicrous draws and so on. 

Trying to bluff them is often a futile endeavour. Although, there are several examples of the few profitable situations to bluff the fish in BlackRain79 Elite Poker University.

You should also take the board runout into consideration when trying to bluff. 

As a general rule, the drier the board, the more likely your bluff is to work, because there are less ways your opponent could have connected with it in some meaningful way. 

Conversely, the more coordinated the board, the more cautious you should be when deciding to bluff.

Bluffing is also more likely to be successful against weak ranges. Look for range capping actions like checking and folding when you decide to bluff. 

Avoid attacking uncapped ranges, and bluff more when you have an uncapped range yourself.

As you can see, what makes a good or a bad bluff is largely context dependent. So always take all the variables into account. 

Relying on your gut feeling is not enough.  

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

3 Bad Bluffs That Are Costing You Money (Avoid This!)