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The bluff.

All reasonable poker players know that Texas Holdem is much more than a simple card-game. It is played with cards, indeed, but that takes nothing away from the fact that it's really more of a betting game than anything else...

As such, bluffing is an integral part of the game system. What exactly do you know about bluffing, though? You probably know that it happens when a player decides to pretend he has a monster in the pocket just to scare his opponents into giving up their pot equity, when in fact he has nothing significant.

Bluffing is a cheeky thing to do indeed, and people love cheeky things, so they're naturally drawn to the idea of bluffing. Bluffing - when it's done correctly - indeed has the potential to yield some absolutely unworked-for benefits, however, it's part of the package that - when it's botched - it can have a disastrous impact on the bluffer himself.

I like to compare bluffing to napalm: it's a very dangerous weapon, but in the hands of a person who doesn't know what to do with it, it becomes downright deadly, more so for the user himself, than for the enemy.

Though bluffing may seem a simple little stunt to pull, in fact it is something of an art-form. It requires the stalking of the prey, positioning, creating the right premises for a successful strike, (attacking from downwind) and lots and lots of psychology.

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The very first thing you need to see about is the position you strike from. Late position is the ideal spot to start the onslaught, but simply being there doesn't mean you should immediately bluff. It only means that if all other bits and pieces are in place, this is where you should be to max out the effect.

Next thing is just as important as table selection in general poker strategy: Victim selection. Bluffing won't work against any player. You need to find the right guy for the role and then you need to 'cultivate' him/her. Basically, you need to create a whole elaborate scenario that will make use of his/her spotted weaknesses, and make circumstance favorable to you.

I'll give you an example regarding victim selection: do not ever try to pull a fast one on a clueless player. He'll be oblivious and thus immune to your carefully crafted scenario-building. He'll call your bluff out off sheer dumbness, and leave your sophisticated scheme high and dry. You need to target a good player, and you need to act out of an 'honest' image. Selecting the good player who will be your future victim is a process which involves a certain psychological prowess. You need to select a guy who shows down strong hands, but is frequently outdrawn by opponents. Being the victim of several 'perfect hand' situations will leave someone emotionally vulnerable and a likely victim for further aggression.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that when you buy the 'perfect hand' a couple of times around, you'll expect to be outdrawn. As once such a player put it on Bodog: "hell, if I show down quads, one of yous is sure to show down a five-of-a-kind" Putting the irony aside, the desperation behind it all, is as clear as it gets. This guy is ripe for a huge bluff.

Victim selection is followed by a careful choice of the situation you make your move in. Pay extra attention to board texture and tell yourself, you have the cards it takes to complete the flush draw on the table, in the pocket. Believe it. You'll be acting, and this self-suggestion thing is a common technique actors use.

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Wait for the right moment, put yourself in his shoes, or rather in his state of mind. A good moment to go for a bluff would be the one when a 4th h, c, d, or s showed up on the table. That'd be a clear signal to him that you have the 5th.

Also, you need to keep the raise reasonable. Bet a bit more than half the pot, and never overdo it. Remember you don't want him to catch on to the fact that you're bluffing, so you're trying to make him think you're forcing him to stuff the pot for you. This is where many - otherwise reasonable - poker players get it wrong: they send a much too "clear" message to the opponent that they want them to fold rather than the much more threatening "please call it".

Pulling off a successful bluff, in online poker, is not a simple thing to do. Now that you know which factors you need to consider when doing it, maybe next time you won't get called on a bluff you just can't afford to lose.

-by Jim Jackson

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