Bluffing is misdirection. It is leading people to believe something is true which is not, in the hopes that they will make a mistake which is to your benefit. Not to put too fine a point on it (these being awfully politically correct times), good bluffing is basically the subtle art of lying through your teeth.
I told a fib
I once played against this guy who had a really disconcerting tactic that he successfully used to rattle the hell out of us. He would announce his hole cards as soon as he received them.
“Jack – five off suit,” he'd say. “Hmm. I don't know. Maybe I should just fold these. Doesn't seem that strong.”
Then he'd go ahead and play them. And they were always the exact cards he said they were. This was particularly freaky and unsettling because more often than not he would win.
Now, what this did was create a perception at the table that he would always be telling the truth about what was in his hand. He'd get his cards, and tell us what he had, and then play them, and win. It got to be that when he announced his hand, anyone with something worse automatically folded.
But on review, he was probably lying at least half the team – but most likely not for the first hour of play. Once he'd established a pattern of consistency that we'd all tested, we started to blindly accept that he had what he said he did.
Once this had happened he could start taking advantage of this terror of his cards that we'd by now succumbed to, and he robbed the blinds silly.
Careful with the truth
Of course, the above example is an extreme and unique case. How bluffing is traditionally pulled off in Texas Hold'em is usually expressed more through behaviour then through outright lies to people's faces.
Before we give you an example of classic bluffing procedure we should just say this: you shouldn't try bluffing too early in a game. It's an extremely effective tactic, but only if it works.
During the first hour or so of the game you should be paying more attention to how the other players are laying down their game, and revealing as little as possible about your own strategies. If you try to bluff early in the game, and you get called, and exposed, then everyone at the table will be tipped to the fact that you like to bluff. This can have its own advantages, true, but it will also rob you of many great opportunities later in the game.
How to bluff
Let us give you a classic example of a good bluff. Suppose you're playing a Texas Hold'em tournament, and you're about an hour into the game. Thus far, you've been playing an extremely tight game, and you're up on where you started, but you also haven't necessarily broken ahead.
You get dealt the eight and nine of spades. Normally you'd toss this hand, but you've decided that you're well enough acquainted with the players at this table that it's time to risk a bluff. After all – you never know – the flop could bring a flush.
So you raise up confidently – double the blinds. Now, the other players around the table have observed your tight play for the last hour or so, so they instantly think you have something – probably at least a pocket pair of some kind. Most of them fold out, but there's still two other players in to see the flop.
It comes down 7d, Kh, Ah. You check. One of the others pushes in a big raise. You calmly double his bet, smirking slightly. He calls, but the other player folds out.
The turn brings 9h. You go all in. Your opponent looks at the table, sees the three hearts, figures you must have the Jack and Queen of hearts to make that play, giving you a flush which trumps the set he flopped with his pocket aces – and folds.
You muck your hand and collect the massive chip stack.