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The latest Teach The People segment on the partypoker blog takes a look at the art of bluffing.

At the beginning of my poker career, I believed bluffing was about bravado and the way it was talked about during poker commentary reinforced that belief. But bluffing involves as much science as psychology, and it has more to do with hand reading and understanding ranges than bullying people.

If you’re not an experienced player, it can be hard to discern when to make large bluffs and semi-bluffs and when to stop betting. Many players new to the game either never bluff and become highly predictable, or bluff too frequently and throw away their chips. It’s difficult to say exactly when to bluff because it’s so opponent and image dependent.

One idea to keep in mind is this: the majority of bluffs should be made when you have at least some equity in the hand — essentially making them semi-bluffs — and/or with the possibility of hitting cards you can plausibly represent. If you don’t have at least one of these things in your favour you’re making a zero-equity bluff, which can look heroic if it’s captured by cameras, but will can often lead to disaster and you handing your stack over to an opponent. Of course, any bluff made on the river is a zero-equity bluff, but that’s a different matter entirely.

Bluffs made on the river may actually be the most effective of all the bluffs because it’s the street people play the most honestly. It’s also quite likely that the pot has swelled by the time the river is in view, so bets and raises will be larger in relation to stacks. Everyone knows how to make a continuation bet; a river check-raise all-in with a busted straight draw, not so much.

Whether you should fire one, two, or three barrels is going to depend on a few things such as what type of hands are you representing? How likely is it that your opponent has a strong hand that could legitimately call you with? What’s your image like at this point in the table? How do your opponents perceive you? Is your opponent a loose calling station, or tight nit? Has your equity improved in the hand? Did a scare card come that’s better for your range than your opponents range?

You should know the answers to these questions before you fire bets on multiple streets against someone, although of course we can’t know everything precisely, that’s the nature and beauty of poker. We’re always making educated guesses in poker, and you’ll have a better sense of who you can bluff if you pay attention at the table, including the hands you fold.

And when the hand is over, there’s one final question: should you show the bluff?

For more on reading your poker opponents, check out this article that I wrote for the partypoker blog a short time ago.

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