Picture yourself at the final table of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. You’re one of the short stacks, sitting on the button, and you get dealt a lousy Seven-Deuce. But at least they’re suited – and in this particular spot, because of the stack sizes and everything at stake, you decide it’s worth going all-in when the action folds to you.
It’s not the sickest bluff you can make at the poker table – some would even call it a “standard” play. But look at it from the perspective of your opponents in the blinds. They know there are millions of people around the world watching you right now. You wouldn’t stick your neck out here with Seven-high, would you?
If only you had that kind of bluffing leverage when you play poker online. The rules may be the same, but online poker – especially tournament poker – is a different game than when you play live. Shoving Seven-Deuce from the button when short-stacked is indeed a “standard” play at your typical Sunday major. So is calling that shove with a wide range.
Here’s the thing: You still have to bluff when you play online poker. In fact, you probably have to bluff more, not less. The competition level is generally easier when you play live; you can carve out a decent win rate by betting for value and avoiding marginal situations. When playing poker online, not so much.
What Is A Bluff?
Bluffing in poker isn’t just about trying to look normal while you make crazy plays. It may seem that way when you watch the WSOP Main Event, where you get to see everyone’s face in ultra-HD. But when done right, bluffs are calculated risks that are only taken when the numbers make sense.
That goes double when you’re online. Since there’s very little opportunity to “Hollywood” your opponents compared to live poker, if you want to win online at anything higher than the microstakes, your best approach is to strike the right balance between bluffing and betting for value – then adjust that balance as you learn more about your opponents and their tendencies.
When I say “balance” in this case, I don’t just mean bluffing half the time with a pot-size bet. It’s more about the quality of the bluff: How much equity do you have? If you’re running a “semi-bluff” like a flush draw in Texas Hold’em, where you’ve got about a 1-in-3 chance of completing your big hand on the turn or river should your bluff get called, that’s the kind of hand you should play more often and more aggressively.
What if you only have a gutshot draw on the flop, or the old “five outs to Two Pair or better”? Now your chances of completing that big hand have been cut more or less in half. These hands should still be bluffed, but less often, and less aggressively; save them for situations where your opponent’s ranges are wider, usually in late position.
Then you have those dirty “naked” bluffs. In theory, you should be willing to play any two cards at just about any time, if only to throw off your opponents, but if you’ve got two napkins for hole cards, these are the hands you should bluff least often, only when your opponents are at their most vulnerable.
I’m Ready For My Close-Up
Once you’ve wrapped your head around semi-bluffs and naked bluffs, there’s one more thing to take into consideration: bet sizing. And this is where you get to sprinkle some Hollywood into your poker strategy. Those semi-bluffs we were just talking about? Play them for big bets as if they were big value hands, like Two Pair or better on the flop. You’d normally bet those hands for the full three streets in position, so plan on doing the same with your bluffs – although plans can change depending on the next card off the deck.
Likewise, when you’re attempting a gutshot or another marginal bluff, play it like a marginal-made hand, maybe for one street of value, maybe two. No need to bloat the pot with these hands. And if you’re running a naked bluff, be prepared to stab once and check/fold if you encounter any resistance.
As you get to know your opponents, you can deviate from this basic template and bluff less or more often, for bigger or smaller bet sizes. Until then, save your bluffs for when the equity numbers all add up in your favor, and don’t forget to put on your best poker face once you’re back at the Main Event final table.