Being successful at poker takes more than a spot of luck with the strength of your cards – you need to be able to read opponents too.
As any poker expert – and countless films and TV shows featuring the card game – will tell you, it’s possible to use body language and other traits to glean some vital insight into what another player is thinking or the quality of the cards they’re holding. Facial tics, foot tapping, sighing, nervous hand movements – all can indicate that one of your rivals is trying to bluff you.
That’s all well and good when you’re sat around the same table as your opponents, but how do you sniff out a bluff in the world of online poker?
Obviously it’s not so easy to do this, as you can’t see your fellow players, so there’s no way of getting a handle on their mannerisms.
However, there are still a few general rules you can follow that could just prove vital next time one of your rivals pushes all in. Equally, these tips can help you choose whether the time’s right to try a bluff of your own.
Watch out for outrageous bets
Typically, a good poker player holding a strong hand wants to encourage their opponents to get in on the action in order to boost the size of the pot and maximise their potential winnings.
In online play, however, not all the people you come up against will be quite so savvy. Anyone who’s played a few low-stakes tournaments on the web will know it’s not uncommon for half the table to move all in before the first flop in an attempt to assert themselves and steal the blinds.
If one of your opponents makes an unusually large bet, it’s often safe to say they’re bluffing. That said, bear in mind that online poker is usually much more erratic than playing around a table, so you can expect to see your fair share of pretty nonsensical bets.
Get to know your competition
By making a few mental notes on your fellow gamers and their patterns of play, you can get a decent read on how likely they are to be bluffing.
Some will try to be cautious, only making sizeable bets when they’ve got at least a strong pair, while others will keep raising and re-raising regardless of what they’re holding.
If you come up against an opponent who keeps throwing chips into the pot straight after the flop, chances are they’re often bluffing. Unless lady luck is really smiling on them, it’s unlikely they’ll have the cards to back up their actions every time, so you can feel pretty confident going up against them.
Make sure you have a hand when you take on a bluffer
For some players, poker can become a series of personal vendettas. Get bluffed once and they simply refuse to fold in the face of a big bet from the same opponent, even if they’re not holding much of a hand.
Adopting this strategy might occasionally catch out a notorious bluffer, but more often than not it will just end up costing you a big stack of chips.
If you’ve got a weak hand and get raised, sometimes it’s best just to cut your losses and fold. Don’t be fooled into calling just to see what cards come up in a bid to keep a bluffer honest.
Instead, wait until you’re holding decent pocket cards – a high pair or two face cards, for instance – then lure them in and take them to the cleaners.
Don’t try and bluff the whole table at once
Holding nothing but a high card with the river approaching? In this situation, it’s not advisable to attempt an all-out bluff if more than one or two other players are still in, unless you’re in a hurry to be somewhere else.
Semi-bluffs, however, are another matter entirely – particularly if you’re in position. A bet or raise with a hand that probably isn’t the best but has possibilities to improve – such as a low pair or four cards of the same suit – can really yield rewards.