Bluffing on the river is a really import tool in your poker strategy. It can be very expensive or very lucrative depending on your skill.
To find the right spots and the right opponents is an art that usually takes many years of practice. A few guidelines on bluffing in general might be a starting point.
Since when you are on the river there are no more cards to come and you usually have a good idea if you have a hand that it is worse than your opponents. So it is easier to see whether betting is for value or a bluff.
So let’s imagine a scenario where you are almost certain your hand is weaker than your opponents. The only way to win the pot is by bluffing.
Now the essential skill is to determine if you should bluff – and if you do how much you should bet.
The more you bet the more likely opponent is to fold (usually). So before you decide to bluff on the river you need to estimate your chance at success. But the more you bet, the higher the risk.
If you bet the pot you need at least 50 % of success for a bluff to be profitable (1:1 odds). If you bet half the pot you need at least 33 % chance of success to be profitable (2:1 odds). If you overbet the pot you need to be successful a majority of the time.
Think about the likely hand range of your opponent. Think about which hands in this range he will likely fold if you bet considering what you are representing and how well that matches your likely hand ranges and the story. And try to estimate how large part of his hand range that he is likely to fold.
The easiest way to get the thought process started is by considering a pot sized bet. Will it succeed at least half the time? If you don’t think it will you should probably not make the bluff unless the circumstances are special (for example an opponent who always fold to an all-in if he doesn’t have the nuts). If you think it will you can adjust the actual bet to a suitable size depending on the situation and the opponent.
Bluffing is an essential skill in No Limit Texas Hold’em. And difficult. Do it too much and you lose tons of money. Do it too little and people will be able to read you very well (unless you play small stakes).
On this site there are specialized articles on the most important bluff situations:
Bluffing is a complex topic and very situation specific. But some general things to think about when you are considering making a bluff are:
- How many opponents do you have? The more opponents the less likely a bluff is to be successful. Let’s say each opponent is 50 % likely to see through a bluff you make with complete air and call. With one opponent you are 50 % likely to be called, with two 75 % likely to be called (1 – 0,5*0,5) and with 3 opponents you are 88 % likely to be called (1 – 0,5*0,5*0,5).
- How is your opponent(s) playing? Will they be capable enough to understand that the hands you are trying to represent are a significant part of your range? Or will they only look on their own cards and decide that a good pair is always good for calling?
- Tell a believable story. Don’t just throw out a bluff on the river without carefully considering how believable it is that you have what you are representing.
- In general when there comes a card that is a good fit to your likely hand range, but a bad fit to your opponent’s likely hand range you have at least one good condition for a bluff.
- Will your bluff make stronger hands fold? If it only makes weaker hands fold, should you really be making it? You might argue that it is the only way to win the pot with a weak hand against a super aggressive player who you know will most likely bet if you check – but under most circumstance it is better to wait until you have a hand and let him bet into you then.
- Prepare the ground for the bluffs. For example, it is much more likely that a flop bluff will succeed if you 3-bet preflop than if you cold called.
- In general you prefer to have some equity in the hand when you bluff, for example two overcards with a backdoor flush draw or a gutshot. This is called semi-bluffing, because you don’t expect to have the strongest hand right now, but it can improve to become the strongest hand. This adds more ways to win then an immediate fold.
- It is preferable to have position on your opponent(s). You get to see their actions first and they are more likely to fold when they are out of position.