The ability to bluff your opponents with a poker face might seem a little fanciful, but bluffing isn’t really the way professional poker players make a living.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes amateur players make, when playing against professionals, is thinking that the pros are pulling Jedi mind tricks on them when making bluffs.
The truth of the matter is that pros win consistently, not because of bluffing tricks, but because they play with solid fundamentals and are able to recognize dangerous situations; they lose the minimum on a bad hand where an amateur may lose his entire stack.
If you’ve watched poker on television, and who hasn’t, you know what I’m talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an amateur call a huge bet on the river with a meager hand just hoping that a pro is trying some elaborate bluff.
Almost without fail, the pro will turn over a superior hand, and the amateur is left wondering why he called such a big bet with a lousy pair of deuces when the board read Q-9-8-6-4.
This was one of the most important epiphanies I’ve ever had in poker. When I first started playing in Vegas, against the likes of poker legends Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, I was in awe of them. It seemed they had some sort of supernatural power; that they could "see through my soul” and bluff me at will.
After getting my feet wet a little bit, though, I realized that, while they were obviously great players, they couldn’t see through my soul at all; they were not supernatural beings. What made them better was that they simply made fewer fundamental errors than their opponents did.
It wasn’t magic. Their years of experience showed in their ability to get away from trap hands, to make good value bets, and to play the right cards in the right situations. Their success wasn’t based on taking huge risks on monster bluffs.
And that’s why they’re still top players today.
Here’s a piece of advice that should help you immensely should you ever play in a tournament against any of today’s top professionals: When a pro puts all of his money on the line into one pot, he’ll usually have the absolute nuts – the best possible hand.
“Wait,” you’re saying, “I’ve seen plenty of pros make huge bluffs.”
Yes, pros take risks, but they do it differently. Most of them look to make tiny bluffs in smaller pots. The strategy is known as chopping away. A player who chops away will play many small pots and be aggressive in them. His aim is to steadily increase his stack size with little risk, rather than getting involved in too many marginal situations for big money.
It’s similar to a boxer who’s throwing lots of jabs, while at the same time keeping his guard up. He’s being patient, waiting for an opening so that he can score the knockout punch. It’s the same way in poker.
Here’s the bottom line: When a pro plays a big pot, he’ll rarely be bluffing, especially in a tournament where one misplay can cost him all of his chips.
As your game improves, your approach should mimic those professionals. When you decide to play a monster pot, make sure you have the nuts or pretty close to it.
Leave the foolish gambling to the suckers!
Visit www.fullcontactpoker.com/news to submit your questions and comments to poker champion Daniel Negreanu.
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