Texas Holdem – How Bluffing Works

All winning Texas holdem players bluff. But most losing Texas
holdem players bluff too. The difference between the winners and
the losers is knowing when to do it.

You’ll find there are different types of bluffs and to be a
long term winning player you need to know each type and
understand when and how to use them for maximum profit.

Straight Bluffs

A straight bluff is when your only chance of winning the hand
is if your opponent or opponents fold. This often happens when
you miss a draw or your opponent hits a better hand on their

When your opponent hits a better hand by hitting their draw
it’s almost impossible to bluff them out of the hand. It’s not
always easy to see when they hit a draw, but the more you study
them and how they play the more likely you’ll be to put them on
a hand.

In the hands where you miss your draw you need to try to
determine if your opponent can predict that you missed your draw
by the board cards and the way you’ve been playing and you need
to figure out how strong their hand is.

For a straight bluff to work your opponent needs to be
convinced your hand is better than theirs and if they know what
they’re doing you need to make sure they’re not getting the
correct pot odds to call even if they think they’ll lose most of
the time.

If this all sounds complicated, that’s because it is
complicated. This is why it’s so hard to run successful straight

Example #1

You’re drawing to an open end straight but don’t complete
your straight. You’ve been betting aggressively and the board
doesn’t show anything that looks too dangerous. You bet on the
river because the only way you can win is if your opponent
folds. This bluff has a decent chance of success because it’s
almost impossible for your opponent to put you on a straight
draw. You’ve also been betting aggressively making it look like
you have a strong hand from the start.

Example #2

The flop has two cards of the same suit and you’re drawing to
a flush. Your opponent bets and you call on the flop and the
turn. On the river you don’t complete your flush and your
opponent bets. If you call you lose so you have to either fold
or raise. It’s almost impossible to get your opponent to fold in
this situation because you played the hand in a weak manner and
it looks obvious that you were drawing to the flush and missed.

Semi Bluffs

A semi bluff is when you have a hand that may or may not be
good, but you also have a draw to a better hand.


You see the flop with the ace and queen of clubs and the flop
has two clubs and the ace of diamonds. This gives you the top
pair and a draw to the flush. You want to play this hand
aggressively, even if another player is also playing

Semi bluffs don’t have to be as clear cut as this example.
You may pair your queen with four to a flush or have two pair
with a board that shows a possible flush.

Most of your bluffs should be semi bluffs where you have a
chance to win even when you get called.

When You Should

The short answer is you should bluff any time a bluff offers
the best positive expectation situation. This means that if a
bluff makes more money than any other option in the long run, or
loses less than any other option, you should do it.


You’re in a hand where you missed your draw and the pot has
$100 in it and you’re first to act against a single opponent. If
you check and your opponent checks you lose the hand. If you
check and your opponent bets you’ll either have to fold or
raise. If you bet your opponent can call or raise, in which you
lose, or they can fold.

In this example your only two real options are check and fold
to a raise, or bet. Checking means you have no chance to win so
the only real question is if you bet will it be profitable in
the long run. Here’s how you determine this:

If you bet $20 how often does your opponent have to fold to
show a long term profit?

Let’s look at what happens if you do this 100 times:

  • Betting $20 100 times means you put a total of $2,000 in
    the pot.
  • When you win you get back your $20 plus the $100 in the
  • So you simply divide the $2,000 investment by the $120
    you get back to see what the break-even point is.
  • You have to make your opponent fold 16.67% of the time
    to break even.
  • So if they fold 17 out of 100 times, or more, you’ve
    made a profitable play.

You can determine the percentages using different size bets
to find the one that gives you the best chance to win.

Once you know the answer to how many times they have to fold,
the only thing you need to figure out is if they’ll fold this
many times or not. In the example above, the odds are high that
your opponent will fold at least one out of every five times, or
20%, so you should make the bet.

You also need to recognize these numbers when you’re on the
other side of the picture. If you think it’s possible your
opponent is bluffing you need to use the same type of
calculations to determine if a call is profitable in the long

When You Shouldn’t

On the other side of the discussion, when you shouldn’t bluff
is determined much the same way as when you should. If it’s not
going to be profitable in the long run you shouldn’t bluff.

We’ve already mentioned one situation where it’s probably not
profitable to make a bluff. When you miss a flush draw it’s
often obvious that you’re bluffing. But you can use this same
mentality to extract extra money when you have two pair or a set
and it looks like you missed a flush. When you bet in this
situation you’ll almost always get called.

Use the same calculations you learned about in the last
section and combine the numbers with your knowledge of your
opponent and what has happened during the current hand. Try to
determine what your opponent holds and try to figure out what
they think you have.

How Often

The bad news is there isn’t a magic number or percentage of
times you should be bluffing. Proper bluffs depend on too many
variables that constantly change to be able to pinpoint a set
percentage of hands.

But the good news is you can probably improve your bluffing
game immediately by doing one simple thing. Start tracking how
often you bluff now and start bluffing half of the times you’re
bluffing now.

The reasons most players bluff too much is it’s exciting to
try to fool your opponent and when you watch poker on television
you see a bunch of bluffs. The poker shows cut out most of the
boring hands and because bluffs are exciting they get shown more
often than many other types of hands.

Your other option is to stop bluffing entirely for the next
several playing sessions and then just start using semi bluffs
from time to time. Then slowly start using a real bluff no more
than once per playing session.

Almost every long term losing Texas holdem player bluffs too
often. Even some of the better players bluff a little bit too
often, but they’re good enough in other parts of their game they
can cover up some of their faults.

The bottom line is if you want to start improving your
results you should immediately stop bluffing so much.

Bad Players and Good Players

One complaint that you’ll hear often is about when a player
makes what they think is a great bluff but a player calls them
and they start whining about how they can’t bluff a bad player.
They say this like they’d rather be playing against great

It’s silly to want to play against better players. The way
you make money playing holdem is by playing against players who
aren’t as good as you.

Many poor players are hard to bluff because they call almost
any bet. But good players recognize this and stop bluffing
against the poor payers. Instead, bet your good hands against
the poor players because they’re more likely to pay you off.

Making bluffs work is as much about understanding the
psychology of poker and poker players and using it to your
advantage as anything else.


Years ago I was playing a no limit cash game and one of the
players was a hot shot kid who thought he was God’s gift to
poker players. He was convinced he was the best player in the
room and that he could outplay anyone and everyone.

We got involved in a heads up pot where I raised before the
flop, bet on the flop, and bet on the turn. I started the hand
with suited connectors and flopped a straight draw. I played the
hand aggressively but didn’t complete the straight. The raise
and bets I made before the river were normal size.

I knew that the only way I win the hand is by betting the
correct amount to get him to fold. Many players mistakenly think
they need to bet a lot to make their opponent fold. This is true
in some situations, but this guy thought he was so good that he
could lay down a hand in any situation proving he could read you
and your hand.

So in this situation a move all in would look like a bluff
and probably get called. So I took a long time to act, trying to
look like I was determining the perfect bet size to get him to
call, making it look like I was trying to extract the last
little bit of profit from him, and I made a very small bet.

The pot odds he was getting were so good that a good player
would never lay the hand down. But he wasn’t a good player, he
just thought he was. He thought a good player could lay down a
hand for a small bet and it made him look smart, but his ego
forced him to make a bad play.

He folded and I won the pot.

This is a perfect example of trying to understand your
opponents and how they think and figuring out a way to use it
against them. He could have called and I wouldn’t be writing
about the experience here, but until he actually became a player
that was almost as good as he thought he was, he’ll continue
making mistakes like the one we just went over.

You can learn a few lessons from this example:

  • Always consider the pot odds when deciding whether to
    fold or call
  • Always try to conceal how good or bad you really are at
    the poker table
  • Don’t make yourself a target at the poker table
  • Learn as much about your opponents as possible


Bluffing is exciting and can be addicting. Just remember to
make sure a bluff is the most profitable long term play before
you try it.

Always try to learn as much as possible about your opponents
so you can find the best times and situations to run a bluff.
Everything you learn about your opponents can mean more profit
in the long run.

And don’t forget to cut your bluffing in half starting today.
It’s almost guaranteed to increase your profits, and you might
find that you need to cut it in half again to increase your
winnings even more.