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“Thoughts on the Art of Bluffery” by Alan25main

October 8, 2019

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How’s your bluffing game? We all have preconceptions about when and how to bluff, but there may be more scenarios you haven’t considered. Read Alan25main’s take below.

“Recently, there has been a lot of conversation about bluffing. The things we can give “exact” answers to, like mathematics, are generally considered sciences. The inexact ones like singing are considered arts. It seems there are a lot of questions about bluffing that have (who would’ve guessed?) no clear, certain, or simple answers. 

First off, what is bluffing? It certainly includes betting with values unlikely to be the best hand. That’s where the image of the smiling raiser holding the Jack-high busted flush comes from. And indeed, many hands have been won by those busted flushes.

But it also includes the guy clearly persuading himself to reluctantly call with his flopped four Aces and several potential callers behind him, doesn’t it? How about the guy raising to counter-steal on two mediocre pairs into a probably better two pairs when there’s a possible triplets that raised behind him–that the mediocre hand is sure raised as a bluff? How about a pre-flop all-in bet on A-Ks (it’s a good start, but by no means a lock)?

I want to suggest all of those count as bluffery. Bluffing is deception intended to mislead opponents into misjudging the relative strengths of the hands to the bluffer’s advantage. Its use is not confined to card games.

Remember the first Iraq war to liberate Kuwait? For about two months before our invasion, the press was filled with stories and articles explaining exactly how, why, and even where Marines would make an amphibious assault landing like D-Day in the 2nd World War on Kuwaiti beaches. Saddam hastily erected obstacles to prevent those landings and redeployed his troops to oppose them. Except…

It didn’t happen. The real invasion came over land from Saudi Arabia, hundreds of miles away, by armored units moving so quickly the Iraqis were overwhelmed before they even knew we were coming. Whole units surrendered to single tanks, and in one case to an airplane that flew overwatch until our soldiers could get there to take them prisoner. Why did it work out this way? Because Americans know how to bluff.

If your opponent thinks you are much stronger or weaker than you really are, they will make mistakes for you to take advantage of. That’s the whole reason for bluffing.

For a bluff to succeed, it must be credible. The “bluffee” needs to be able to believe the bluffer’s bet is reasonable and represents the advertised strength or weakness correctly. The easiest way to accomplish that is to bluff seldom. Simple, right? Some players choose this path. The problem is then the opponents will seldom call unless they can beat you. Most bluff a bit more often. A lot of thinkers put the optimum for bluffing at about 10% of hands played, give or take a bit.

Other players bluff so often–extreme cases might be 25% to 30% of hands DEALT, not played–everybody calls them all the time. And, because odd things happen more often when there are more players, those perennial bluffers will win a few large pots, but lose even more to unexpected draws (then they’ll complain about how unfair poker is).

Clearly, the “right” answer is somewhere between the two extremes. So, we have to find the sweet spot between too many and too few bluffs. Including the bluffs from strength as about one half of all our bluffs, that would imply we should be bluffing from weakness with the other one half of our bluffs. One half of 10% is 5%, so if these numbers are valid, a rational bluffer “should” bluff from weakness about once in every 20 hands they play (NOT hands dealt, the discarded hands don’t count), or about once for each sandbagging hand played.

Could a player bluff more? Of course, but we’re trying to maximize our gains, not just increase the cost of the bets. Could she bluff less? Certainly, but likely at the cost of foregoing profits.

FAIR WARNING: I’ve never tried writing this out this way before. It SOUNDS reasonable and valid. In fact, I’ve always done this by “seat of the pants,” not as an organized, formal, and quantified effort. I’ll try it myself. If you should try this method, let me know how it worked for you in the comments after this article, via the Forums, or by PM (for that, you’ll have to friend me at Replay, first).”