No matter what your general style of play is, throwing in an occasional bluff is necessary to keep your opponents guessing. It’s an integral part of poker.
The same applies to your opponents. While you’ll occasionally come across straightforward players who only bet when they have the goods, a vast majority are capable of pulling a bluff at least now and then.
It’s your job to sniff out these bluffs and catch them with their hand in the cookie jar – but you’ll need to learn how to spot them first.
So if you’re facing a bet and aren’t sure what to make of it, these tips should give you a good starting point.
1. A Flop Continuation Bet
If you’ve been playing poker for any length of time, you’re probably aware of the continuation bet.
This is a play when the player chooses to bet on the flop after raising preflop, and many of your opponents will do that whether they connect with the board or not.
While c-bets work very well and are a powerful weapon in your arsenal, you can’t just bet every flop without thinking about it. This may work against very weak players who play fit-or-fold poker, but it won’t work against thinking opponents.
They’ll consider your preflop range and how that range corresponds with the flop texture. When trying to pick off a c-bet bluff, you should be doing the same.
Some players will use this move too frequently and you can easily exploit that.
For example, if someone has raised before the flop from an early position and the board comes with low to middle connected cards, their flop bet is more likely to be a bluff.
The board texture is much more likely to help other players, especially if blinds are still in play.
Always be on the lookout for the players who continuation bet too often. This is definitely one of the more common poker bluffs out there, and many players don’t know how to balance it properly.
Once you figure out someone is automatically betting almost every flop, you can counter them by calling their bets in position or mixing in an occasional check-raise to force them to give up on whatever equity they might have after throwing some more money into the pot.
2. The Button Raise
Even bad players know that you’re supposed to raise with all sorts of hands from the button to try and steal the blinds, which is why this is one of the most common poker bluffs out there.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about complete bluffs when discussing a preflop situation, but if you’re raising with a hand that you shouldn’t, you’re essentially bluffing.
So if you notice a player who is opening any two cards, you can add way more hands in your 3-betting range and call medium strength holdings from the big blind.
If your opponent is playing way too wide in this spot, they will have a very hard time defending against your 3-bets.
On top of that, if you structure your calling range properly and have a lot of decent hands against their wide and weak range, you’ll have many opportunities to take down the pots.
So while the player on the button has a huge advantage of position, if you notice them playing way too aggressive, you can easily punish them for it.
3. Bluffing To See Where They’re At
Although you won’t find this type of bluff with competent pros, recreational players seem very fond of this move.
This type of bluff is usually marked by a fairly small sizing.
As a poker bluff, it’s not a very good one as it doesn’t price other players out, and it reopens the action for anyone who might have a strong hand and has decided to play it tricky.
This play usually isn’t too hard to sniff out as the player making it is often quite honest about it.
The whole bluff is designed to buy the pot in the event everybody else has whiffed completely and are happy to give up, or at least to see the next card with a hope to improve very cheaply.
So while you will not see this move from experienced players, you’ll often face such bets even in multiway pots from someone new to the game, so you should not be afraid to play back.
4. The Instant-Bet Bluff
When you check to your opponent and they instantly fire a fairly sizable bet, you might be facing an instant-bet bluff.
This is a common poker bluff, especially among live players, and the idea behind it is to confuse the opponent and not give them time to think.
Of course, you can have as much time as you want because the speed with which they bet doesn’t dictate your action – but this play does work sometimes.
The instant-bet bluff can be quite effective against inexperienced players who’ll feel pressured into making a quick decision. They might respond by auto-folding their cards without taking the proper time to think about the hand.
So when you face such a bet from your opponent, always try to break down the entire hand to see if they can represent a very strong hand.
More often then not, they are just trying to look intimidating, so you can pick a couple of extra pots based on that.
5. A Donk-Bet Bluff
Most of the time in poker, you’ll want to check the action to the original raiser and let them continue with the aggression.
There is very little advantage to betting into them on the flop to let them know you have a good hand and allow them to get away cheaply. Hence the play was dubbed a donk-bet.
While good players do use the donk-bet as a part of their overall strategy, you won’t see it very often since it is much harder to balance and put into overall solid strategy.
Bad or inexperienced players, on the other hand, will frequently donk-bet. And more often than not this will be done as a bluff.
The logic behind the move is to try and win the pot right away instead of having to deal with a continuation bet and everything that comes after.
You’ll find that some players simply refuse to give up on their donk-bet bluffs even after being repeatedly put in tough spots because of it.
With the original raiser having a position and range advantage, for the most part, they can choose to play however they want – call or raise with hands that have good equity and let the bluffer throw away some more money on the turn if they’d like.
So when you notice a recreational player donk betting on the flop, don’t rush into folding.
6. The Turn Stab
As discussed earlier, firing a continuation bet on the flop is quite common.
So, when the player who’s supposed to bet on the flop decides to check behind, it opens doors for another common poker bluff, the turn stab.
This is another one of those bluffs that will work fairly frequently, especially against weaker players.
Good players know how to balance their check-back ranges by checking some of their strong hands. However, recreational players usually have absolute air or the nuts in these spots.
Since it’s really hard to flop the nuts, the turn stab bluff works quite well.
Even if the in-position player calls the turn, it’s possible to take them off of their hand with a river bet depending on how the board runs out.
So, if you don’t have this one in your arsenal, you should definitely start looking for good spots to add this play and always be ready to bluff-catch against other players.
7. The Min-Bet Bluff
Again, this is one of those bluffs you’ll probably encounter frequently but only from less experienced players.
It usually happens on the river where they’ll try to buy the pot with a tiny bet.
Although this is a funny-looking bluff, it can be quite tricky, especially when you don’t have a hand with any real showdown value.
The problem with this bluff is that you have to be quite certain that it is, in fact, a bluff.
In that case, you can raise and win the pot. However, if it turns out to be a small value bet, you’ll be in the world of hurt when they jam on you.
The reason why pros don’t resort to this bluff as much is that a good player will simply make a call with a wide array of hands as they know they’re getting the right price.
So if you find yourself in this situation and see that your opponent’s story doesn’t add up, you should be calling fairly wide and can even consider raising if you are holding complete air.
8. The Squeeze Bluff
If there is one thing that’s really changed about poker over the years, it’s the fact games have become much more aggressive.
Long gone are days where most people were sitting around the table, waiting for the nuts.
These days, players are looking for good opportunities and are less worried about the quality of their holdings.
The squeeze bluff has become quite popular, to the point where even inexperienced players resort to it quite often.
When there’s a raise and a few callers ahead of you, there is plenty of dead money in the pot and only one player (the original raiser) to really worry about.
So, why not raise and try to squeeze everyone out to win those sweet chips in the middle?
Again, this is a preflop play, so it may be hard to categorize it as a pure bluff, but when done with a weak hand, you aren’t expecting to have the best cards if you get any action.
The purpose of this bluff is to put everyone else to the test and force them to fold hands that are likely ahead and maybe even have you dominated.
For the most part, this move works great since people tend to be over-folding in these situations, so you can surely take advantage of that.
Don’t be scared when someone else is squeezing and don’t give up too easily. Unless you’re at the table full of really inexperienced players, you’ll see this play quite frequently.
9. The Triple-Barrel Bluff
Although not as common as other bluffs on this list, the triple-barrel bluff is usually very effective and quite difficult to deal with.
When a player is determined to win a pot and they fire on the flop, the turn, and the river, calling them down without a very strong hand is a tough task.
It’s a good thing that most players don’t have it in them to go for a triple-barrel bluff frequently as that would make the game much harder overall.
The only way to deconstruct these bluffs is by approaching the hand in a very methodical and calm manner.
Start by thinking about their likely preflop range and go from there. By betting all three streets, they’re representing a very strong hand.
How likely are they to have a strong hand given the preflop action and the board structure?
Of course, any physical tells that you might have picked up along the way, and any previous knowledge of the player’s tendencies can come in very handy as well.
You better be quite sure someone is even capable of making this bluff before you decide to call them down.
10. The Overbet Bluff
It’s only logical to conclude this list of top poker bluffs by the one that’s probably the hardest to deal with.
The overbet bluff is mostly applied on the river when your opponent decides to blast away with a really large bet – usually well over the size of the pot.
This type of bluff is not as uncommon as you might think. Loose players, even some very good ones, love to use it to put the maximum pressure on their opponents.
Of course, they’ll balance it out by polarizing their ranges and also sometimes betting huge when they have the virtual nuts.
What makes this bluff so hard to deal with is the fact you’re getting really bad odds on the call.
So, you have to be sure you’re being bluffed to make the call, and it’s not easy to be sure when you have a mediocre hand and are facing a huge bet.
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be calling too many of these bets.
Keep your hero calls for those times you’re up against a total maniac or a really good player that you believe is capable of making such play with air.
Keep in mind that this kind of bet will pretty much never be a medium hand. They’ll either have the nuts or nothing, so your hand strength is not as important as you might think.
If you play poker, you’ll have to deal with bluffs on a daily basis, and I hope that this article will help you recognize and deal with the most common spots.
There is so much to say about bluffing in poker that it’s impossible to explain in one article, but you have to start somewhere.
At the same time, keep in mind that your opponents might be privy to this knowledge as well. If you’re getting ready to fire away with air, think about these common situations.
If your play is screaming “bluff” then maybe you’d be better off cutting your losses and saving your chips for another, more favorable spot.