Bluffs in Tournament Play

Tournaments change every facet of the game, and the ability
to bluff is no different. In a cash game you’ll be able to
reload if you run a failed bluff, but this just isn’t an option
when you are in a tournament. Once the chips are gone, they are
gone, so you’ll need to be exceptionally careful. Now, this
isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be running bluffs from time to
time, but you will most certainly need to be picking your spots
with extreme care.

As backwards as it might sound, the later stages of a
tournament will usually be the best time to attempt a bluff. It
doesn’t seem like this would make sense, but this is when you
are most likely to procure a lot of folds. As a tournament runs
deeper and deeper, players tend to become more scared. As a
result of this, you’ll be able to take advantage of other
players’ weakness by firing out well timed bluffs in an attempt
to take down big pots. Picking your spot is always important
when running a bluff, but its importance is even more magnified
when you are playing a tournament.

Bluffs in Early Stages

The early stages of a tournament are the worst time to
attempt a bluff. Bluffs shouldn’t be confused with continuation
bets, however, as these will be perfectly acceptable from the
very first hand that you play. When discussing bluffs, you
should be thinking about those big pots where you are going to
risk a significant amount of chips for a sizable pot. A
continuation bet is different because it will mean that you are
wagering a small amount of chips for a moderately sized pot. The
risk reward in a continuation bet is weighted such that you have
little on the line, whereas in bluffs you can very easily put
yourself in a difficult position should you happen to lose the

The reason that bluffing in early stages doesn’t make sense
is because your absolute best outcome is a 50% or increase in
stack size, since a 100% increase means that you were likely
called. Since even an early double up is going to mean next to
nothing later on, it doesn’t make sense to put yourself in this
amount of danger. You can’t win the tournament in the
early stages, so there’s no point in playing as if you can.

Bluffs in Middle Stages

In the middle stages of a tournament, the value of a bluff
will begin to rise. Where there was once little value to be had,
there’s now more worth fighting for. This isn’t to say that
you should be risking your life at this point in an event,
however. The middle stages are where you’ll either start to
fall behind the pack or when you’ll start to pull away. The
end of the spectrum that you happen to be on will play into
whether or not you are in prime position for running any bluffs.

If you are starting to lag behind the field as the blinds
start to steadily increase, bluffing is something that you
should put on the back burner. Instead of trying to accumulate
chips with risky plays, the better move is to look for spots
where you can most effectively double up. If you are low on
chips, you are probably going to be scared money. Bluffs should
be made when you have the power to push people around, but a
short stack is living on its last legs.

The times where you have compiled a big stack of chips are
the situations where you should be attempting bluffs, and
especially in the middle stages. Some players will still be in
early stage mode and will be playing passively, making it a
perfect opportunity for you to throw around your weight. As good
as making some bluffs can be for your chip stack, you’ll still
need to be careful that you don’t needlessly drain your
tournament life away. Don’t take any big risks quite yet; simply
stick to making plays in hands with the highest chances of

Bluffs in Late Stages

The late stages of a tournament are going to be full of
adrenaline and extreme emotional swings. You could be riding
high one second and on the brink of being knocked out the next.
If you make a bluff at this time, expect those emotions to be
even more amplified. A bluff late in a tournament could define
whether you barely cash or make it to the final table.

As a short stack, you shouldn’t even be considering making a
bluff as the tournament nears its final stages. Instead you
should be looking for the best double up opportunities that are
available. There’s no value in putting your life on the line in
an attempt to double up when you could be doing the same with a
decent hand. Any good bluff requires that you are intimidating
your opponent, and a small stack will have a tough time
accomplishing this. Even if you have a big stack, bluffs aren’t
to be messed around with. One failed bluff when the blinds are
high could very easily spell disaster.

If you are going to try and outplay your opponents when you
are in the middle of a deep run, you need to be aware of the
risk involved. Don’t take big shots at tight players who only get involved with
the nuts. Don’t bluff on a board where your opponent is very
likely to be slow playing the nuts. This is all very obvious
advice, but many players will get suckered into the idea of
winning a big pot with nothing at all. While the chance of
increasing your stack by a good margin is enticing, it’s also
exceedingly dangerous. Use your big stack as a weapon to push
around weaker players in the late stages of a tournament, but
don’t use it as a means of self-destruction.