Inducing and Stopping Bluffs

The two preceding chapters demonstrated how, with sound judgment or game theory, a player who bluffs correctly gains a tremendous edge over his opponents. In fact, given two games — one with otherwise poor players who bluff approximately correctly and another with solid players who do not bluff— you do better to play in the solid game. When I started playing draw poker for a living in Gardena, California, I intuitively suspected I was better off playing in games with the typically tight Gardena players than in the looser games with players who played too many hands. I realize now what the difference was. The tight players never bluffed, which was profitable for me, whereas in the looser games players were bluffing more or less correctly — and that hurt me.

Good bluffing strategy is such a powerful weapon that it is important to develop tactics to keep your opponents from bluffing correctly. Naturally you are not concerned about changing the habits of opponents who almost never bluff or bluff far too much. But when you find yourself up against a player whose occasional bluffing keeps you on the defensive, you want to try to lead that opponent away from correct bluffing strategy. You want to induce him to bluff more than he should or stop him from bluffing as often as he should.

Whether you try to induce a bluff or to stop a bluff depends upon your opponent. If you are playing against a relatively tight player who nevertheless seems to be winning too many hands without getting called, suggesting he may be stealing some pots, you want to stop him from bluffing. That is, you want to push him away from optimum bluffing strategy to the point where he is afraid to bluff you at all. On the other hand, you want to push an aggressive player who may be bluffing slightly more than optimally into bluffing even more. In other words, against an opponent who seems to bluff a little more than is correct, induce a bluff and make that player bluff more. Against an opponent who tends to bluff less than is correct, stop him and make him bluff even less. In either case, you are stopping bluffs or inducing bluffs to make your opponents bluff incorrectly.

Most professional players are aware of the power of correct bluffing strategy, so they often try to induce bluffs or stop bluffs. However, they sometimes forget an important principle: If you are trying to induce a player to bluff and that player bets, then you must call. This principle is obvious, yet many go against it. If you try to induce a bluff and still fold when your opponent bets, all you may have succeeded in doing is helping that player bluff you out of even more pots than he otherwise would have.

Similarly, if you do something to stop a bluff and then call when your opponent bets, you would do better and catch more bluffs if you didn't try to stop his bluffing in the first place. In other words, if you think your hand is worth a call after having tried to stop a bluff, it is crazy to have tried to stop the bluff. You simply reduce the possible hands your opponent might have bet with and therefore the number of hands he might have that you can beat when you call.

These two principles regarding inducing and stopping bluffs should be self-evident. When you try to induce a bluff, you will always call if your opponent bets. When you try to stop a bluff, you will always fold if your opponent bets. To do otherwise is completely counterproductive, and it would be better not to try to induce or stop a bluff in the first place.

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