Bluffing at poker is often the most misunderstood and misused tool at a poker player's disposal. You can't suddenly bluff at a pot and expect to win very often because there are too many aspects of the game of poker. To be successful with a bluff you have to know everything that is going on during a particular hand, and you have to know how to play poker!What's a Bluff?
Typically, a bluffer makes a bet or raise to get their opponents to fold, because they do not have a strong hand. Bluffs are usually more successful at no-limit poker where the risk verses reward is too high for an opponent to call. In limit games there is only a small risk, so bluffs are less likely to be successful.
The better your opponents, the more likely they are to weigh their risk/reward before calling or folding. The weaker your opponents the more likely they are to call based solely on what they hold in their hand, never considering what you may have. In other words, you can bluff a good player more easily than a poor player.
Sometimes players are called calling-stations, because they barely know what beats what. They simply play their cards, call the bets, and hope they win. Do not try and bluff these players. They have no idea that you are trying to represent a big hand. Save your bluffs for players who appear weak and won't want to call another bet or raise with their poor hand.Talking a Good Game
Sometimes you can talk a good game and convince another player to lay down their hand after you bet or raise. To be successful you have to know how your opponent thinks. If you know your opponent is egotistical and hates to be told what to do, making your bet and saying "I know you're going to call, but I have to bet," may confuse them just enough to consider throwing their hand away.
Talking may also give you a small edge when you guess at what your opponent is trying to make and saying as you bet, "Miss your straight?" or, "I'm good if you didn't make that straight." If they were actually trying for a straight or flush and made a slightly weaker hand, they are likely to toss their hand.Representing a Hand
When you raise early in a hand, such as preflop at Texas Hold'em, your opponents will likely figure you hold AK or a big pair. This works to your advantage if they call but miss on the flop. Sometimes called a continuation bet, your wager on the flop is saying you still think your hand is the best. However, if they call on the flop, you now need to decide whether to continue bluffing if you have nothing, or simply check. Making the correct decision in this instance comes with practice and reading your opponents.
However, Texas Hold'em does offer a good player many chances to represent a hand after the flop. If you miss the flop but think your opponents are weak, you might pick-up the pot with a single bet. However, representing a hand usually happens on the turn or the river when a three-flush or three-straight is on the board and you have just been checking or calling (perhaps to an a-x hand or a small pair). Now that third flush card comes (especially strong if the turn and river put that up there) and you suddenly bet or raise representing a backdoor hit.
If the pot is fairly small, this is a good time to pickup the pot with a bluff. Your opponents can figure out what you might have made and they don't hold much. Timing is everything!Knowing Your Opponents
Nothing improves a player's odds of winning at poker better than knowing their opponents. If you've been at a table for an hour you should know who the aggressive players are, who the rocks are, and you need to use that knowledge to pry a pot or two away from those players. When a rock (a player who is in very few hands) is betting, you're likely sitting out, because your respect the fact that they probably have a hand this time because they are betting. However, that same rock can be beaten if you can put them on a hand like AK or AQ and not a pocket pair. A little raise by you on the turn is likely to get a raised eyebrow and a look of disgust before they toss that hand that never improved!
You can also take over a bluff, if you have a strong suspicion another player is bluffing at a pot. If you have been doing your homework and studying your players, you may have seen a bluff or two by another player. If you can't figure out what they are suddenly raising with (you're out of luck if they spiked a set on the turn) but you were also considering bluffing at what appeared to be weak hands,this is your chance.
If you are playing limit, your bluffing opponent is going to call your raise, but is likely to toss their hand on the river. If you are playing no-limit, you better be right about your assessment of their hand - but when you are, they will give up the pot right there and then.
Timing and reading your opponents will be your best tools when bluffing. The better you get at reading your opponents and understanding what starting hands they will play and when they are weak, the more successful your bluffs will be. Also, when you are catching more than your fair share of hands you should also be bluffing more, because your opponents are frustrated, intimidated, and used to you winning. They are more likely to toss hands early when you are playing well. Help them make that decision!