In Poker, a bluff is when you make a bet or raise in an attempt to force your opponent(s) to fold a better hand than you, thereby awarding you the pot by default. While players can bluff at any time during a game, the best players always bluff at the most reasonable times – that is, when they believe their opponent(s) will fold the most frequently.

Knowing when to bluff necessitates the application of a specific, teachable bluffing skill set that will enable players to maximize their expected value (EV) and profit the most from bluffing. This detailed guide aims to provide you with all the information you need to master the art of bluffing!


Bluffing is a skill that must be incorporated into your poker game if you want to be a good player. Why you may ask? Let us look at two examples to help us understand the answer to this question.

The Nit: Consider a super-nit who only bets when they have a good hand. In this case, playing against them becomes relatively simple because if they show any sign of aggression, you’ll know you’re likely to beat them and can make an easy fold. Nits are easy to play against because they turn their hand face up when they show any sign of aggression, allowing their opponents to play near-perfectly against them!

The Maniac: Now imagine a player who is a maniac and exhibits excessive aggression and bluffs. It’s simple to exploit this player’s tendencies by calling lighter (with a wider range of value hands) versus them and/or letting them hang themselves by letting them put more money in the pot when you have a strong hand.

As a result, as you can see, incorporating the art of bluffing just the right amount into your game is what will elevate you to being a tough player to play against.

The most important key element in successfully executing a bluff is timing! The following are some simple questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not a bluff will work in a particular situation:


Questions to ask yourself:

  • Has my opponent displayed any physical or timing cues that could help predict the strength of their hand?
  • Is it possible for me to balance my bluffs with enough value hands here?
  • Is my opponent a call center? Is he going to call me down in any case?
  • How does my table image look? Will my opponents likely respect me?
  • Does my betting story make sense throughout the hand (i.e. for me having a strong hand)?
  • Did I size my bets correctly (i.e. for storytelling, Stack to Pot Ratio, risking the least amount of money with bluffing while retaining the most fold equity, etc.)?

As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider when deciding whether it is appropriate to bluff or not.


Bluffing requires you to be aggressive, and aggressive players are usually the ones who win. (This is because they can win pots in one of two ways: (1) they have the best hand at showdown, or (2) everyone else folds to their bet or raise, and they win the pot uncontested.)

That being said, it is not about using blind aggression but rather an aggression that is carefully selected and used at precisely the right time. Here are nine factors to consider before a hand begins to determine whether you should consider bluffing at all (and how frequently) if the next hand merits it.

If you’re using an exploitative strategy, having the right gameplay dynamics at your table (player types, position, chip stacks, etc.) will determine at what frequency you should bluff.

Stakes: It’s more difficult to bluff at the micro stakes because players are more “call-happy,” but you can profit here by taking an exploitative approach. As you progress and your ranges require more balance than usual, bluffing should become a more common part of your poker gameplay.

Number of Players in the Hand: Simply put, the more players in hand, the less likely you should be to bluff because someone is bound to have a piece of it.

Your Image: If you’ve recently been overly aggressive and/or caught bluffing, try to bluff less frequently and value bet more, as that recent memory will be fresh in your opponents’ minds and may make them more inclined to call you down.

Images and Tendencies of Your Opponents: If your opponents always call, you should never bluff! Similarly, opponents who overfold are the ones you should be bluffing the most against.

Look for Poker Tells: Knowing your opponent’s holding, or at the very least the strength of their hand, as a result of a “poker tell” can help you decide how to play. During a session, always keep an eye out for anything you can learn from the players at your table.

Hide Your Poker Tells: Knowing what to look for at the table to help you hide your own tells can certainly help increase the success rate of your bluffs. (See “Section 7: Noticing Poker Bluffs Using Poker Tells” for more information.)

Deepstack cash game play will necessitate knowledge and application of different bluffing concepts than the short stack, later-stage tournament play. Furthermore, the types of bluffs to do in each will vary.

Considerations for Bankroll: Being properly bankrolled will allow you to feel more comfortable following through with a well-timed bluff at the tables rather than potentially shying away from pulling the trigger out of fear of loss.


When deciding whether or not to bet, the goal should be to either gain value from a worse hand (i.e., value) and/or deny equity realization from your opponent’s hand and/or force a better hand to fold (i.e., bluff).

When betting, you must select sizings and frequencies that account for all of the possible hands in your range. This allows you to choose which hands are the best bluff candidates (which we’ll go over shortly) and which ones you can include for value.

When constructing their ranges and deciding how much to bet, players typically choose between two types of hand ranges:

Polarized Range: Extremely strong Hands or nothing at all (bluffs)

Linear / Merged Range: Includes very strong hands, as well as some medium-strength hands and bluffs.

In general, polarized ranges have much larger bet sizes than merged ranges. (Perhaps you’ve heard of how when someone overbets the river, he’s very polarised, which means he usually has the nuts or nothing.) This is because higher bet sizings allow you to include more bluffs in general, relative to the number of value hands in your range. Let’s look at bluffing from a theoretical, mathematical, and balanced perspective to see why.

PLEASE NOTE: The following section refers to river bluffs. 

This is because once all of the community cards have been dealt with, the equities of hands are fully realized, and you will either have the best hand or not. 

Equities often run much closer together when bluffing (or semi-bluffing) on the flop and turn, so it’s acceptable to bluff more than on the river. (We’ll go over this further in “Section 6: The Art of Semi-Bluffing” below.)

On a similar note, as previously stated, betting larger on the river (i.e., using a more polarized approach) allows you to bluff more frequently. If you bet $100 into a $50 pot, your opponent must call $100 to win $150, giving him odds of 3 to 2. (or 1.5 to 1). This means that he must call and win 40% of the time to show a profit, which means that your range should include 60% value hands and 40% bluffs.

Use the chart below to figure out how many bluffs to include in your river betting range based on your bet size (and whether you’re using a balanced strategy).


Here are five large-scale tips to keep in mind to increase the success rate of your bluffs.

Hand-Read Your Opponents Like a Pro: Knowing the strength of your opponent’s hands is essential in determining whether or not a bluff will succeed. Hand-reading skills can be learned and practiced over time. Determine your opponent’s preflop tendencies first (by assessing how frequently they open, call, etc. – re: VPIP and PFR stats in a HUD), and then use this to help give you a starting hand range for them by position.

Re-Select Good Bluff Hands For Every Street: Just because you bluff-raised the turn doesn’t mean you should keep firing with all of your river bluffs. (At that point, you’d be over-bluffing!) Always assess and re-assess which hands in your range would be the best to bluff with on a street-by-street basis, and then finalize those candidates based on your bet sizing and the number of value hands in your range.

Don’t Attack Weakness Mindlessly: If the villain checks back the flop or turn and shows weakness, this isn’t an automatic reason to attack the next street(s) with any two cards, as you’ll be over-bluffing and likely losing money in the long run. While this is an exploitative (yes!) villain tendency that can and should be countered, especially if they check back with weaker holdings, it doesn’t mean you should donk bet the next street 100% of the time with all hands in your range.

While it’s always good to know how to play a solid, fundamentally sound balanced poker strategy, keep in mind that most of the time, especially at lower stakes games, you’ll be able to extract more value overall by simply attacking your opponents’ exploitable tendencies rather than focusing on balanced strategies.

Determine the Sizes of Your Bluffing Bets So, when you bluff, consider how much you would bet with your value hands in the same situation. This is because you don’t want to use different bet sizes for your bluffs and value bets, as many competent players will notice and exploit you!


Within the broad spectrum of bluffing, there is a smaller branch of the tree known as semi-bluffing, in which you bet with a hand of (current) low showdown value now (on the flop or turn) in the hopes of improving to a much stronger hand (i.e., straight or flush) on subsequent streets. The power of semi-bluffing comes from (1) having a larger pot to win if you improve on later streets; and (2) allowing your opponent to fold a better hand now, denying him equity realization and awarding you the current pot in the process.


As a general rule, you should be able to sort the various hands in your range into four different categories for post-flop play:

  • Hands that are well-made
  • Hands Made on the Margin
  • Draws
  • Air

In general, as an oversimplified system for deciding which hands in your range to bet, you should be betting on those in Categories 1 and 3 and checking on those in Categories 2 and 4.

As a result of using this system, we will be semi-bluffing because we will be betting our draws most of the time, which will be balanced by our strong value hands.


On the river, it’s easier to determine which hands to consider bluffing with because all players have realized their equity and can determine their hand’s strength at this point (with no cards to come). This is why, on the river, it is easier to determine whether a bet is for value or a bluff (as semi-bluffing is no longer possible). 

It’s also why (with our river bet sizing) we can precisely determine how many bluffs to include in our range.

However, when we’re semi-bluffing on the turn or river, we almost always have equity with our draws, so it can be difficult to know how frequently we should be bluffing (semi-bluffing), as well as which hands are best to do so with.

As a general rule, value-to-bluff ratios for all streets of play should ideally be something along the lines of this formula:

  • 1 value hand for every 2 bluffs on the flop (semi-bluffs)
  • 1 bluff for every 1 value hand (semi-bluff)
  • River: 2 strong hands for every bluff

Note: As you probably know, the river formula holds true when using a pot-sized bet but varies depending on the bet sizing used.


Not every draw is created equal. You will most likely be over-bluffing if you always bet with all of your flush draws and straight draw combos. As a result, it’s critical to carefully consider the best semi-bluff combinations in your range.

On the flop and turn, the best hands to semi-bluff with are those with little, if any, showdown value.

Example 1: C-bet 9s8s on AsQc2s as a flush draw rather than QsJs, because the QsJs already have showdown value in the form of a pair of Queens.

Example 2: It is better to bet K7 on 986 than it is to bet 87 at this time because the 87 has a higher SDV than the K7.

Two more situations where checking instead of betting may be preferable are (1) with combo draws (i.e. straight + flush draws), depending on stack sizes, and (2) select Ace-high flush draws (again coming back to checking a good portion of the time because of the Ace-high showdown value).

A good rule to follow for flush draws is this: How would you play your hand if you didn’t have a flush draw with it? As the QsJs example above shows, on an Ace-high board, it’s unlikely we’d want to c-bet that flop with just a middle pair anyway, so we probably shouldn’t do it with a flush draw to go along with it.


As previously stated, knowing how to play against your opponents will be easier once you have a better idea of the strength of their hand. Noticing any “tells”, they may have will improve your hand-reading abilities and will help you determine whether a player is weak or strong.

Having said that, here are some common tells to look out for:

Tense vs. Relaxed: When someone appears tense and stiff (i.e. shoulders up, massaging their neck, etc.), it is often an indication of a bluff. A strong hand is often indicated by a player who is relaxed, moving (legs swinging), and/or able to speak freely without hesitation.

Eye Movements: Many poker players wear sunglasses while playing to conceal any information their eyes may unintentionally reveal about the strength of their hand.

Pupil dilation is frequently associated with a strong hand.

When a player examines their own chip stack after a community card is dealt, it frequently indicates strength (i.e. gearing up for a bet).

If a player looks at the flop after it has been dealt with, it is often an indication of weakness (as if to wish the flop changed).

In contrast, if a player looks away immediately, they’re usually quite strong (as if they’re attempting to appear weak by acting disinterested in hand).

Genuine Nervousness and Excitement: Certain (often subconscious) actions that players struggle to notice or control can reveal strength or weakness.

When you see a hard swallow after someone bets, it often indicates nervousness, as they could be bluffing.

The same is true if one’s hands shake while betting. Contrary to popular belief, their nervousness usually indicates excitement, indicating they have a strong hand.

How They Bet: A player’s betting style can often reveal the true strength of their hand.

If they slide a large pile of chips forward (while keeping them on the table), it frequently indicates their strength, as they are attempting not to appear strong or draw attention to themselves.

If they make an exquisite gesture with their money, they usually attempt to appear strong but are actually weak.

You may also notice the denomination of chips used for bets. If they put out 20 x $5 chips instead of 1 x $100 chip to make a $100 bet, they may be using the intimidation factor of using more chips than usual to get you to fold.

If a player is staring you down after they have bet, they may be bluffing (again, trying to intimidate you).

While there isn’t necessarily a general rule to follow regarding timing tells from one player to the next, players will often take different lengths of time before betting, depending on whether it’s a value bet or a bluff.

Different players may also size their bets differently when bluffing (perhaps larger) than when value betting (maybe smaller). Again, this varies greatly from player to player, but it is usually exploitable once a trend is identified.

Remember that the above lists are only general indicators. What applies to most of the population may not apply to all players.

Furthermore, by paying close attention at the poker table, you’ll be able to notice other traits and characteristics that different players have that may indicate strengths or weaknesses.


This section discusses the aftermath of a poker hand in which one player bluffed and the other player called, catching them bluffing. After reaching a showdown, there are always things you can learn and adjust for future play. We’ll look at (a) when you catch someone bluffing and (b) when someone else catches you bluffing.

When Calling Someone’s Bluff:

Your opponent is what kind of player? You’re somewhat in the dark if a player mucks a (supposed) bluff at showdown. Even if a player mucks their cards online, you can still see their holding after the hand by using the site’s hand history re-player. With this information about their hole cards, you’ll be able to learn a lot about your opponent:

Is your opponent capable? Inept players can be entertaining to play against. This is because their gameplay is illogical and somewhat random. Incompetent players may be blasting away with 2nd or 3rd pair for no reason, whereas good players may use large river bet sizes to represent a polarized range (bluff or nuts). Recognizing which players have no logical idea of what they’re doing is critical.

Is your opponent’s value betting spread too thin? Similar to the previous point, this is where you can learn about your opponent’s betting habits. If you notice that they frequently bet second, third, or fourth pair on the river when certain betting lines are taken, you can easily exploit this tendency by calling with a wider range.


The issue with many fish is that they do not select which hands in their range are the best to bluff with. Instead, they can be caught over-bluffing by betting too frequently with (1) air (which they should have just check-folded instead) or (2) hands with some showdown value that they would have been better to check with (as there would have been better candidates to bluff with).

Can your opponent deceive you? 

If you’ve always seen your opponent with the nuts at showdown, they’re probably incapable of bluffing. In this case, be wary whenever you see their bet and make sure you’re getting good odds to keep playing if you’re on a draw. Furthermore, if you make the nuts, you’ll understand that you should frequently bet for value against them, as checking would be pointless if it didn’t induce a bluff from them.

How Does Your Opponent Proceed After Bluffing 

Some players will lose their cool after a bluff is called. Perhaps they’ll continue to be reckless in the hands that come after. Or maybe they’ll tighten up again to try to recoup their losses. In any case, observe whether such players appear to be influenced by such outcomes and seek to adjust accordingly.

When Your Bluff Is Called

Learn from The Hand: Did your opponent call you down for a weaker reason than you expected? Did your betting story make sense in retrospect? Did you bluff with an appropriate hand in your range? Mistakes can be costly in Poker, but as long as you learn from them and apply what you’ve learned in future situations, it’s not all for naught.

Don’t Tilt: If you tend to tilt, end your session early or take a break from the table. It will end up saving you a lot of money. Furthermore, in your study/improvement sessions away from the poker table, make sure that you’re taking steps to help eliminate tilt because “time at the table = money” in Poker, and you don’t want to constantly have to take a break from the table just to calm down.


Now that you’ve learned how to bluff, bluffing strategy, semi-bluffing, and becoming a fantastic bluff catcher, it’s time to watch some pros at work. The world’s best players will bluff at every opportunity. Why? Not only does it demonstrate their skill level, but it is also profitable. They profit from it!


Bluffing is an important aspect of any poker player’s game. When executed correctly, it can not only help you win more money, but it can also turn you into an extremely difficult player to play against, as your opponents will simply have to guess whether you have the goods or an airball.

Continue studying the concepts and principles of bluffing long after this article has ended. The repetition of these ideas will really help cement the key points of bluffing into your brain, taking your gameplay to a whole new level when you’re able to apply it while playing. Best of luck with the felts!

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