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Stopping the Bluff

By Gary Steele

When I first started playing I read everything I could find. I played thousands of hours of poker. I even developed a piece of software to track my opponents. I played very tight and played poker by the book. This system was good enough to win against good players, but I never could figure out why I could not beat loose players. Some of you may have had the same problem and I have finally figured out why this was always the case (with the help of Mr. David Sklansky). The simple reason for this is that bluffing is profitable against tight players. We tend to fold at the drop of a hat. Loose players with a good grasp of the limitations of the bluff can beat tight players.

If you do not bluff, you need to learn how to have any hope of mastering the game. This column is not on how to bluff though; it is about stopping the bluff.

My game has evolved to the point where I actively search for these loose/aggressive players now. They are the most profitable to play against if you know how to stop them. Many of them do not bluff well enough to win.

Stopping the bluff is fairly easy, though often scary if you are not used to doing it. Most importantly you have to identify the players who bluff too often. Identifying these players at the table is the key to stopping the bluff. After all, you are not interested in stopping the bluff for a tight player who bluffs once each day. You are simply trying to stop the frequent bluffers from throwing money at any pot you are in. You want to develop a reputation of not being pushed around, and you have to do this by raising the bluff.

When you are in the pot against a chronic bluffer you need to let him make the bluff, then raise enough to scare him out of the pot if possible. I usually restrict this to a time when I have a few outs or the pot is worth taking a shot at. I am not going to try to stop the bluff when all I have to win in the pot are a couple blinds. Bluffers take quick notice of these raises. It is part of their game to take a small shot at each pot and fold if someone raises. Bluffers go broke fast if they call the raises. The first time you do this they will expect you had a good hand. The second time they will start to become wary of you. The third, fourth, and fifth time they will be scared to throw the bluff at you and you can start playing your game without worrying about them. At this point if they throw a bet into a pot you are involved in you can be fairly sure they have a hand. You have changed their game, which is profitable for you.

Occasionally this will backfire on you, especially when you try the technique against a player who is a good bluffer. By this I mean against a player who bluffs the correct number of times (Sklansky explains this better in The Theory of Poker than I am able to). These players only bluff when it is profitable for them to do so or when they have the correct number of outs.

Raising against a bluffer is a difficult thing to do. This type of raise is probably not a part of your game because it is not something you are able to use very often. If you are a tight player this raise is your key to beating the loose games.

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