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Obviously bluffing is an important element of poker, and bluffing too often, or not often enough will negatively affect your winnings, but is there a rule of thumb for how often you should bluff? For example, if I bluff once or twice an hour, is that too infrequent? If I bluff about once in a button cycle, is that too often? What's the optimum bluff frequency?

EDIT: I found these links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluff_(poker)#Optimal_bluffing_frequency
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pot_odds#Bluffing_frequency

According to David Sklansky, game theory shows that a player should bluff a percentage of the time equal to his opponent's pot odds to call the bluff. For example, in the final betting round, if the pot is $30 and a player is contemplating a $30 bet (which will give his opponent 2-to-1 pot odds for the call), the player should bluff half as often as he would bet for value (one out of three times).

and

David Sklansky, in his book The Theory of Poker, states "Mathematically, the optimal bluffing strategy is to bluff in such a way that the chances against your bluffing are identical to the pot odds your opponent is getting."

So, if I generally bet half the pot, I should be bluffing 40% of the time; if I generally bet twice the pot, I should be bluffing 25% of the time. Sounds like a lot to me - how does this sit with everybody's experience?

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What's a "button cycle"? –  ire_and_curses Jan 16 '12 at 21:14
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@ire_and_curses: A "button cycle" is a cycle in which the "button" (that determines the dealer and the blinds) has been around to each person once. It's actually the same number of games as the number of players at the table. –  Tom Au Jan 16 '12 at 21:36
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The normal term for that is "orbit". Measuring bluff frequency in terms of time is a bad idea, btw, since the speed of play will vary. –  Karl Knechtel Jan 17 '12 at 11:48
    
@KarlKnechtel: Another consideration is the "speed" of the GAME. Some games are "fast" with a lot of bluffing going on. In such cases, you should (almost) "always" have them when you bet--to catch bluffs and slow the game down. Other games are "slow" with few bluffs and few calls. In such cases, you should sometimes bet when you don't "have them" (bluff) to "steal" money and speed the game up. –  Tom Au Jan 17 '12 at 17:40

3 Answers 3

How can there be a right answer to this question? You bluff for 2 reasons.

1 - To take a pot when you don't think you have the winning hand.

2 - To make people believe you are willing to bluff so you can sucker them in when you have a winning hand.

How often you can bluff totally depends on how well you've convinced others that you aren't doing one or the other of the above. That varies by night. That varies by the cards you've been getting. That varies by how well people know your style. That varies by how well you think the other players at the table can be bluffed. It varies by how often you think other players are bluffing. It varies by how often other players call versus fold. It varies by how other players have reacted to your bluffs. IOW, there is no way someone can say to bluff a certain percentage of the time since there are way too many variables. Besides, if you learn that someone bluffs say 2 times per hour then any decent player will use that knowledge to their advantage. And anybody bluffing 25%-40% of the time at tables I play at will lose their shirt night in and night out.

The rules of thumb that I use if I am going to bluff:

  • I believe that I am going to win with that bluff. (Notice that I didn't say hope)
  • I am playing for option 2 above; and then I ensure that I only lose minimal money.
  • The amount of money in the pot versus how much I need to put in has really good odds and there is still a prayer that I'll win outright.

You can't put a frequency on any of those options because it's all about feel and reading the other players.

Besides that, I think bluffing is far over-rated in poker anyways. In general, when you bluff you put up a relatively high amount of money, but you get relatively little in return since you are trying to get people to fold. You are far better served learning when to play your cards and when to fold them and maximize your profits from that. People aren't stupid. You can make money bluffing in the short term, but eventually people catch on and set you up.

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OK, so 25%-40% is too often. And obviously 0% is not often enough. Can you narrow that range any further? Is 20% still too often, or can you get say with that at certain tables? Is 5% still not often enough, or is that optimal at certain tables? –  gkrogers Jan 22 '12 at 22:46
    
@gk-I think you are looking at it the wrong way by trying to put a % on it. If you play at a table where bluffing always works then bluffing 100% of the time is the proper percentage. If you play at a really loose table that people always call then bluffing 0% of the time is the proper percentage. The right number depends on you gaining experience to learn what works for you under various conditions. You also need to be unpredictable, so even if you play with the same people all the time, one night you might bluff 0 times and another you might bluff 50 times so you don't become predictable. –  Dunk Jan 31 '12 at 21:24
    
@gk-but like I said, IMO bluffing is only a short-term strategy. If you use it as your core strategy then you are destined to lose. You risk a lot of money and get relatively little in return. IOW, high risk, low reward. Rather than focusing on bluffing, focus on learning to properly play the cards you are dealt. In the long run you'll always be a winner since most people don't know how to properly play their cards. –  Dunk Jan 31 '12 at 21:29
    
I'm not focussing on it, but obviously bluffing is an important part of the game and bluffing 0% or 100% of the time is never optimal. I was just wondering what the average was, and if there was any way of calculating an optimal overall bluffing percentage. –  gkrogers Jan 31 '12 at 22:13

A rough rule (from economics) is that you should bluff until the money you lose from getting caught approximates the money that you would forego from not bluffing. That is, you should equate the "marginal utilities" of the two activities.

If you "never" get caught, you aren't bluffing enough. That is, you are leaving money on the table with a number of bluffs that you could have "run" but didn't. You SHOULD get caught, partly for "advertising" purposes, and partly so that you "start" to lose money bluffing. Then bluff "a little more" and stop when you lose a little more. If you get caught "too often," you are losing more money than you're making with your last few or "marginal" bluffs.

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One of the most important things in bluffing is the image you have on the table. If you generally play tight, your opponents will trust your bets more and your bluffs will be more effective.

Otherwise, if you are a loose player you could a lot more hands and your opponents will trust you less, and call your bets more often.

So, if you are a tight player, you should bluff more, because you will win pots with them more often, and if you're a loose player you should bluff a little less. Anyways, if you are loose and bluff often, they will trust you less and call more (as said above), and you can make profit from this when you actually have a strong hand.

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