Bluffing, in all its forms, is an essential and beautiful component of poker. Whether it’s in a scene of an old Western or a livestream of the World Series of Poker, the art of convincing your competitors to lay down their hands without knowing if yours beats theirs, is a fabled and fascinating part of the game.
The art of the bluff
Bluffing is a psychological art, but poker has—up until recent years—long been a face-to-face game. So, being mindful of what you reveal through your physical reactions is key. Over time, poker players learn to conceal their emotions with their best “poker face” and to read their opponent’s body language for “tells”, or signs, that a bluff is in progress.
When playing poker in person, these tells can be just about anything, and vary from player to player like a fingerprint. One player might furrow their eyebrows. Another might tug absent-mindedly at an ear or click their tongue involuntarily. Others might look at their cards a little too often, or glance around at other players a little too impatiently. Human psychology being what it is, physical bluff signals can literally be anything, some more obvious than others.
Types of bluffs to watch for
Which brings us to our new-age dilemma. In the world of online poker, how can players initiate or read bluffs, when body language doesn’t enter the picture? Step one is understanding the basic types of bluff you might encounter during a round. These are:
1. Full-on bluff
When a player with a losing hand, bets or raises to pressure opponents to fold a stronger hand. This kind of bluff is pure deception, designed to convince the player with a stronger hand they’d lose if things progressed to a “showdown”.
When a player has a weaker hand now but could form the strongest hand at the table if the right cards come up, later. That means if a semi-bluffer fails to convince the stronger player to fold, they could still turn out a win.
Here a player has great cards but tries to front as if their hand is weak, to convince opponents to bet or raise and increase their potential winnings.
Keep in mind, depending on how a hand goes, a player could use all three styles in the course of a game. Now, let’s look at how this translates into online play.
The art of bluffing online
In an online poker room, you might be looking at a virtual table full of avatars, but there are a few tells that might give away a bluff in action. Rather than watch out for physical signs, the trick is watching for certain behaviours or quirks in styles of play. Here are a few to look out for:
Notice someone placing large bets, making frequent calls or rushing to raise? If so, you might be watching a bluffer in action. Consistent overconfidence might have less to do with a player’s actual hand and more to do with how other players at the table react.
Conversely, if you happen to notice a player taking longer than usual to bet, call or raise, they could be mulling over a difficult decision, or they might just be trying to give you a sense of uncertainty. Players with a strong hand might “anti-bluff” to convince others that their hand is weak. Why? To make them bet more than they might have otherwise.
This is a big one to keep your eyes on. You’ve heard the term “all-in”? It’s the action a player takes when they bet 100% of their chip stack at once. Why do this? To force other players to fold, or risk losing it all. It’s the ultimate sign of either confidence or overcompensation, and that’s why it’s a classic bluff move. Whenever someone goes all in, things can only go one of two ways: showdown or fold.
Online chat commentary
Table chatter has always been a huge part of poker. Trash-talking or hyping up your own hand can be an easy way to get in an opponent’s head and influence what they think your holding. Exclusive to online poker, however, is the chat feature—a great way to try to bluff and work on your typing skills.
Just don’t let the chatter get in your head: if a player seems overly boastful, they might be bluffing. Then again, they might be trying to make you think they’re bluffing. See why we call it an art?
It all comes down to personality
Which leads us to our final, and most crucial point when it comes to online bluffing—personality types. If bluffing is an art, then the personalities behind the bluff will make it come to life in different ways. Even though you can’t see them face to face, the following five profiles will often reveal themselves online:
- The Loudmouth: the type of player who won’t stop talking (i.e., using the chat box) during online play. They often present themselves in the opposite way to how they feel. If they’re playing a bad hand, they’ll have you believe it’s the best of the bunch. Or maybe they’ll use their reputation to double-agent style fake you out. Always question (and considering ignoring) what they say.
- The All-inner: The All-Inner is the one who puts their whole chip stack on the line, hand after hand. Are they bluffing? Are they for real? It’s hard to know before you play a few rounds and figure them out.
- The Checker: See the same player checking on every round? Then, calling every time you bet? Keep an eye on that player, they might be holding a strong hand but playing weak, and hoping you’ll play your hand aggressively.
- The Position Player: it’s an advantage to bet after another player—you can analyze their move before making yours, and you can bet to test the confidence in their hand. So, if a player after you is constantly raising and re-raising, they might be using their table position to bluff (and bully) you into folding. ,
- The Speedy-Speeder: Speed is a tell. A player can feign confidence by raising or calling quickly, or create a sense of uncertainty by taking their time. If you see a player quickly raising or re-raising often, they could be trying to force others to fold their hands in a bid to steal the pot.
As you play, it can help to take notes on your virtual competitors and track their play personalities and behaviours. While you can’t make any guarantees, it’s possible you could start to notice patterns, tendencies, and virtual “tells” that might help to inform your future decisions. At the very least, consider have a poker hand cheat sheet ready—the better your hand, the more you can have confidence in it against a potential bluffer.
And there you have it, a quick primer on what to look for when it comes to bluffing online. As online gambling increasingly becomes the norm, it’s a good idea to learn about what makes virtual players tick and how you can influence—through truth or fiction—the bets they make against you.
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