The Book of Bluffs

How to Bluff and Win at Poker


By Mr. Matt Lessinger

Foreword by Mike Caro

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An expert poker player and columnist for Card Player magazine shows how players at every level of the game can master the art of the bluff.

Twenty years ago, Mike Caro wrote the book on what to look for in a player’s movements, gestures, and facial expressions—their “tells”—to determine if they were bluffing, and it remains one of the bestselling poker books of all time. But what Caro didn’t do was teach players how to bluff. Enter Matt Lessinger, a professional poker player and columnist, who in THE BOOK OF BLUFFS shows players how to get their opponents to fold—no matter how strong a hand they’ve been dealt. Lessinger reveals how, with the correct timing and artistry, bluffing will allow a player to win while holding an inferior hand—the very essence of poker.


Copyright © 2005 by Matt Lessinger

All rights reserved.

Warner Books

Time Warner Book Group

Hachette Book Group, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at

First eBook Edition: October 2005

ISBN: 978-0-446-50715-8

The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Book design and text composition by Stratford Publishing Services

Cover design by Brigid Pearson

Cover photo by Herman Estevez


First and foremost, thank you, Alan Schoonmaker, for your hundreds of hours of editing and general support. Your contributions have been invaluable. This book could not have been done without you.

Thank you, Greg Dinkin and Frank Scatoni at Venture Literary, for taking a good idea and turning it into a great proposal.

Thank you, Colin Fox, Andrea Girolamo, and everyone at Warner Books, for putting up with my constant phone calls, and for collaborating to create this finished product.

Thank you, Crandall Addington, Bobby Baldwin, Nolan Dalla, Chris Moneymaker, and Ron Stanley, for your insightful interviews. It was a pleasure talking with each of you.

Thank you, John Tibbetts, Mike Fink, Larry Thomas, Wayne Hirao, and John Larosa of the Oaks Club for allowing me the time off to work on this book, and for providing me with such an enjoyable workplace. To everyone else at the Oaks Club, thank you for your continued encouragement and support.

Thank you, Jeremy, Ysaaca, the gang at 1018 Verdemar, my folks at Hagen Oaks, Jason, Pete, Tim, and everyone else who has supported me through this process with their friendship, advice, and humor.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, Linda and Lou, Kristen and Casey, Michael, Renee, Danielle, Zoe, Howie, Sheila, Kenneth, Dale, Helene, Ira, and everyone else in my family who has been there for me.

Finally, I thank you for reading this book. I hope that you enjoy it, and that it pays for itself a hundred times over.


General Bluffing Thoughts

Most of this book will focus on specific situations. This chapter will discuss some of the concepts that relate to bluffing as a whole.

Twelve Bluffing Proverbs

You will see many of these proverbs repeated, and they will be italicized for emphasis. You must understand them, remember them, and appreciate their importance:

1. There are only two ways to win a pot: You can show down the best hand, or bluff with the worst one.

If you don't bluff, you are throwing away half of your pot-winning potential. Yes, you can beat certain games by simply biding your time, showing down the best hand as often as possible, and trying to fold early when you sense you are beaten. But it's foolish to think you'll never bluff.

In many games, failure to bluff well can be the difference between winning and losing. That includes, but is not limited to: tournaments, tight games, shorthanded games, and games in which your opponents give your bets too much respect. Later on, we'll discuss those games in more detail.

Bluffing is vital in all higher-limit games. If you're a low-limit player looking to move up, you'd better have as many ways to win as you can. You'll be against many players who already understand the importance of bluffing, and if you fail to recognize that importance, you'll be at a distinct disadvantage. It'll be like entering a battle with a water pistol against a platoon armed with assault weapons.

2. If you never get called, you can never lose.

Many players are obsessed with getting paid off when they have a strong hand. I've seen some of them get amazingly agitated when they had pocket aces and won only a small pot. I hope you don't fit that description. As far as I'm concerned, that's a ridiculous reaction, for two reasons. First, it's always better to win a small pot than lose a big one. Second, rather than dwell on the small size of the pot, you should be thinking about what it means that no one gave you action. If you were able to win uncontested with A-A, it stands to reason that you could've won in the exact same manner with 7-2. If the timing is right, and you can play your junk hands in the same manner as your monsters, there's no reason why you can't win uncontested with 7-2 just as easily.

This is an especially vital concept in tournaments, where survival is the name of the game. You're hoping to accumulate chips, but that's not nearly as important as staying alive. If you can consistently win small pots without a struggle, you'll avoid elimination. The key is not to generate action on your good hands; it's to avoid getting action on any of your hands. How can you get knocked out if no one ever calls you? You must choose the right opponents and the proper times to go on the attack, so you can win uncontested pots as often as possible.

3. Loose players look for reasons to call, while tight players look for reasons to fold.

Tight players are obviously easier to bluff than loose ones, and you should never forget that. Before attempting any bluff, ask yourself if your opponent will be looking for a reason to call or to fold.

For example, you're playing NLH, and on the river you miss your flush draw. There's $200 in the pot, and you decide to bluff, since you've made up your mind that your opponent has a marginal hand at best. If you make a pot-sized bet, a loose opponent could easily talk himself into calling. He will think, "Wow, this guy might have me beat, but if I call and win, I can take down a big pot. That could make me a winner for the night! I've gotta go for it."

Meanwhile, a tight player might tell himself, "I think I could have the best hand, but I don't want to spend another $200 to find out. That's a lot of money. I don't want to risk losing so much when I'm not sure whether or not I have the best hand."

See the difference? The loose player saw the large bet as a positive, while the tight player viewed the exact same bet as a negative. It's hardly ever your actions by themselves that determine the success of a bluff; what truly matters is against whom you make those actions.

4. Poker is a game of information.

Winning players gather vital information about their opponents' hands without divulging information about their own. Just as that is the key to winning poker, it is also the path to successful bluffing. Anytime you make an uninformed bluff, you're merely guessing. You are taking a shot in the dark, just hoping that your opponents can't call.

You'll never enjoy long-term bluffing success that way. You need to make every effort to gather information about your opponents' hands and playing styles. If you can determine that at least one of them has a strong hand, you can save your bluffs for another time. But if you sense that everyone is weak, you can profitably attack.

Meanwhile, you have to be careful what kind of information your opponents are gathering. If you're bluffing, you can't allow them to pick up on the weakness of your hand. If anything, send out false information. Through your betting, give them reason to believe that you have a monster, when in fact you have rags.

If you can give out either false information or none at all, while simultaneously picking up accurate information about your opponents, you will unquestionably become a successful bluffer.

5. Your opponents' mistakes become your profit.

It's impossible to play error-free poker, but the biggest long-term winners will be the players who make the fewest mistakes. Your goal is not only to avoid making mistakes, but to induce as many as possible from your opponents. Whenever you have the winning hand and your opponent calls, he made a mistake. He could've folded and saved a bet, but instead that bet becomes part of your profit.

A well-executed bluff causes your opponent to make a far worse mistake. If you can get him to fold the winning hand, he will have cost himself the entire pot. Now the whole pot represents your profit, since you were rightfully entitled to none of it. It's not easy to get someone to fold a winner, but that's what makes bluffing such a valuable skill.

6. Good position makes everything easier.

You always want to act last. Since poker is a game of information, having everyone else act first gives you information about their hands. You can then use that information to help determine your correct play. Whatever you choose to do, you will be making an informed decision.

On the other hand, your opponents are forced to make uninformed decisions. They don't know what you plan on doing, so they have to make their best guess at your intentions. They're forced to guess, but you're not. You have the advantage. For that reason, all bluffs become easier from the button than from anywhere else.

Don't get me wrong. Bluffing from out of position is fine, as several of the ones in this book will demonstrate. However, don't ever kid yourself that you'll find better opportunities from the blinds than on the button. The button should become one of your best friends in the poker world, if it isn't already.

7. Indecisiveness leads to failure.

When attempting a bluff, you must be decisive. You must appear strong. Any indecisiveness will work against you. Against many players, if you take more than a few seconds to figure out if a bluff is worth attempting, you've missed your chance. They will assume that you needed time because you did not have a clear-cut decision, and they will call. You'd be better off cutting your losses, and focusing on being more prepared for the next time a bluffing opportunity comes around.

8. A good bluff tells a story that the victim believes and understands.1

When I say that indecisiveness leads to failure, it is a two-way street. The same way that you must act certain, you have to also make your opponent feel certain—certain that he is doing the right thing by folding. You don't want to leave any doubt in his mind. Let him remain confident in his fold, because creating confusion in your opponent's mind is counterproductive. Confusion leads to curiosity. Curiosity often leads to calls.

9. A good bluff should be misleading, but not confusing.

There is a tremendous difference between the two. When you successfully mislead your opponent, you control him. You get him to do exactly what you want. If you need him to fold, then you mislead him into thinking that you have the best hand.

On the other hand, when you confuse your opponent, he is not sure what to think. Instead of specifically planting the idea in his mind that you have a strong hand, you've made him wonder what you have. As I just said, confusion leads to curiosity, and curious players will spend the money to find out what you have, especially in limit games. In no-limit, a big bet might keep someone from calling. Their prudence might outweigh their curiosity. But in a limit game, players often take the easy way out by calling a single bet, just to find out what you had so they don't need to remain confused.

I've always thought of that action as a "peace of mind" call, and I've made plenty of them. I was really unsure what my opponent had, so I called a single bet just so I could see their hand, and I could sleep easier that night. Sometimes they had the best hand and sometimes they were bluffing, but I was usually glad I made the call.

Many other players make that same call when their opponents confuse them. If you avoid getting your opponents confused, you won't have to deal with their "peace of mind" calls, and all your bluffs will stand a much greater chance of success.

10. Chances are, the flop won't help.

Unless a player has a big pocket pair, he probably doesn't feel good about his hand unless the flop improves it. A-K doesn't look so hot once the flop comes 8-9-10. 6-6 looks okay before the flop, but becomes drastically worse once the flop comes A-Q-8. With everything other than big pocket pairs, players need some help from the flop to feel confident. That works to your advantage because, more often than not, that help won't arrive.

A player without a pocket pair is almost a 2-to-1 underdog to flop a pair or better. Someone with a low pocket pair is in much worse shape; he is about a 7-to-1 underdog to flop a set. In either case, your opponent will probably receive a useless flop. If you put significant pressure on him, he will then be faced with a tough decision.

Sure, the flop probably won't help you either, but that's the point. Many times, the flop misses both of you. Then it's up to you to be the aggressor, because the person who bluffs first stands a good chance of winning. You don't want to be put on the defensive, looking for help from the flop in order to win. Put your opponent in that situation. Whenever possible, make him think you have the big pocket pair that doesn't need to improve. Or else, make him think that the flop that didn't hit him helped you instead.

You'd rather have a reliable read on your opponent—some more concrete knowledge that the flop missed him. But in the absence of that kind of information, as a backup plan you can always play the percentages. Those percentages strongly suggest that the flop was no help.

11. You can't be afraid of running a failed bluff.

Some people avoid bluffing for fear of embarrassment. If you fit that description, you are probably worried about getting caught and then having to show a garbage hand. Hey, I know how you feel. It's not a fun experience. But the more often you play, the more you should come to realize that it is simply part of the game. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bluffing unsuccessfully. On the other hand, there is something wrong with letting a perfectly good bluffing opportunity pass because of a fear of getting caught. That is a problem. You have to get over that fear, because if you're going to play optimal poker, you will have plenty of bluffs that fail.

There is no way that all your bluffs will work. In fact, if you are anywhere close to a 100 percent success rate, it shows a flaw in your overall strategy. It's good to know that your bluffs are working, but it also means that you are bluffing way too infrequently. Since you are succeeding so often, you should increase your number of attempts. Even if you reach the point where only 50 percent of your bluffs work, that is still a fantastic success rate. Most of your bluffs will involve risking an amount much smaller than the size of the total pot. Therefore, any success rate that approaches 50 percent will show a very significant profit.

What matters is not the number or percentage of bluffs that succeed, but how much money you make from your successful attempts, compared to the money you lose from your failed ones. Sure, you can attempt two bluffs, be successful both times, and be able to say that you have a 100 percent success rate. But you should enjoy much greater prosperity if you bluff twenty times and win ten of them.

Even the world's greatest bluffers have many of them go bad; it doesn't mean they were bad bluffs. As long as you picked a good spot and executed well, don't let a failed bluff get you down. Simply brush it off, and get right back to your A game.

12. No matter who your opponent is, there will always be times that you will have a chance to bluff him.

It doesn't matter if he is a novice or an expert, a tight player or a loose one, the opportunities will be there. Against a tight opponent, those opportunities might arise once per hour; against a loose player they might come once per month. Obviously, this book will have more practical application against the tight player, so he should receive the bulk of your bluffing attention.

But don't tell me that a particular player cannot be bluffed. It's just that the opportunities appear more frequently against some than others. In general, you'll make most of your profit against the players who are easier prey, but don't close your eyes to the possibility of bluffing against anyone and everyone. Just as we are all potential bluffers, we are also all potential victims.

Bluffing Is Never Impossible

Let's continue with that last point, because many players believe that bluffing is impossible in loose games. However, they are wrong. Is it difficult? Yes. Will your opportunities be slim? Yes. But is it impossible? Never! No matter the game, sooner or later, a good bluffing opportunity will present itself.

In general, the fewer opponents who are contesting each pot, the easier it becomes to bluff. As you'll see, many of the sample bluffs in this book take place against a single opponent, because bluffs are most often successful in heads-up situations. Some of them involve two or three opponents. Very few of them involve four or more, since you shouldn't try bluffing very often against more than three players. It's possible, but usually not worth attempting, since it won't succeed often enough to be profitable.

So if you're in a loose hold 'em game in which seven or eight players are seeing the flop, you can dismiss the idea of bluffing before the flop or on the flop. With so many players, it would just be a waste of money. But then, you have to watch what happens after the flop. Do most of the players fold once they see a flop that completely misses them? If so, then you might have only a couple of players seeing the turn, and bluffing becomes a possibility.

On the other hand, maybe most of them call the small bet on the flop, even with nothing, but then fold for the larger bet on the turn if they haven't improved. In that case, you're limited in your ability to bluff on the flop and on the turn but, once the field gets narrowed down, you might find an opportunity on the river.

Here's my point: Just because seven or eight players call before the flop, don't automatically assume that you'll never have a chance to bluff. What if most of them fold once they flop nothing? And then, the ones who stay in are drawing for flushes and straights that don't arrive? It won't happen often, but sooner or later it will happen, so always keep your mind open to that possibility.

Most players do just the opposite. They correctly figure that they can win without bluffing, so they follow a rigid pattern. They play boring, straightforward poker. They exercise tons of patience while waiting for strong starting hands, and then hope those hands hold up. To a large extent, their strategy is correct. In the long run they should come out ahead, so they see no reason to add anything to their game plan.

They don't realize that the occasional well-timed bluff could help them win even more. They have turned their brains off to the possibility of bluffing. You never want to do that, otherwise you'll never recognize your full potential. No matter the game, the chance to bluff profitably will always come. If you're in a loose-passive game—one that is relatively easy to beat—then it won't significantly hurt your results if you miss that opportunity. But believe me, not only will it feel great when you discover it, it will open your eyes to strategies you never considered before, and your game will reach a new level.

Different Types of "Good" Games

Most of us have an image of what constitutes a "good" game. We usually envision a table full of players who see every flop and throw their chips around as if they are mere pieces of clay, not really caring if they win or lose, just looking to enjoy themselves. If given the option, we would all probably take a seat in that type of game. We know that by playing in a tight, boring manner, we could expect to win in the long run.

While that is true, the short-term luck factor is tremendous. You are at the mercy of your cards. If you get a good rush of premium hands, and they hold up, you can expect to book a nice win. But if you run card-dead, or if you get your good hands chased down, you will lose, no matter how "good" the game is. And just as you have the potential to book a nice win, some of your biggest losses will come in that type of game.

For those reasons, I find tighter games to be just as good, if not better. They are more stable, plus I'm not at the mercy of my cards. In a tighter game, if I get below-average cards, I can still pull out a win with some well-timed bluffs. And if I get a good rush of cards, I can win both by bluffing and by producing the best hand. As far as I'm concerned, that's a much better position than being in a game full of crazies, having to wait for pocket aces or kings, and then praying they hold up.

Don't get me wrong. Poker should be fun, and it's nice to play with people who are clearly enjoying themselves. The problem is that in order to beat such players, you must avoid having the same kind of fun as them. You can't play the same marginal hands that they do, otherwise you will no longer be playing profitably. Basically, you have to play A-B-C poker, and not get out of line.

Is that really what you want to do? Personally, I think it's a drag to have to play boring and tight to win. Poker is supposed to be fun, and I don't think sitting around waiting for the nuts is much fun, especially when they never come. That's why playing against a group of tighter players can make for just as good a game as any other. It lets you adopt a profitable and enjoyable strategy that gives you a greater chance of winning regularly. It's in those games that this book's concepts become pure gold.

Control Yourself

For those of you who strictly play online, none of this next discussion applies to you. For all I care, you can attempt a bluff and then stand up and shout at the screen, "Fold, already! Come on, you dummy! Get out of my pot!" Of course, you're not exactly playing the part of the levelheaded poker player, plus your spouse or kids might look at you a little strangely. But it's not going to affect that bluff's chances of success.

For those of you who play in B&M cardrooms, you have an added chore. Not only do you have to bluff when the situation and timing are right, you also have to keep tabs on your entire body. You must control every motion you make. Your eyes, nose, mouth, hands, even your legs—none of them can betray you.

When you make a move, everyone involved in the pot is watching. Some are watching more closely than others, and some are better than others at knowing exactly how to interpret your movements, but you should assume that everyone has an eye on you. Sure, you might be against unobservant and unknowledgeable opponents, but why risk it? Always play as if you are under constant scrutiny, because in most cases, you are.

Here are some good guidelines to keep in mind:

1. Don't start talking.

You should keep your table talk to a minimum at all times, but that is doubly true when you are bluffing. The only time you should say anything is if you have some strong reason to believe that your words will cause your opponent to fold. That is rarely the case, so for the most part, don't chance it.

There's a fine line between misleading your opponent and confusing him. If you don't successfully mislead him, then your talking will probably serve to confuse him. And, as we discussed earlier, a confused opponent is more likely to call.

2. Don't do anything out of the ordinary.

For example, if you usually bet in a smooth motion, don't suddenly slam your chips down when you bluff, thinking that will scare everyone out. Very few opponents will actually be intimidated. Most of them will find it suspicious that you acted so differently, and if they have anything at all, they will probably look you up.

Another example: If you normally look straight ahead or toward the board when you bet, don't suddenly lock eyes with your opponent and stare him down. I know that every movie would have you believe you need to do it when you bluff, but rarely will it help your cause. Most times, your opponent will realize that you've never engaged anyone in a staredown before, and he'll wonder why you're doing it this time. His curiosity will kill your bluff.

3. Don't suddenly become motionless.

Chances are that you do not normally become a statue after you bet a strong hand, so don't do it when you're bluffing either. You should be aware of what actions you normally take. For instance, where does your betting hand usually end up after you've bet? Many players let their betting hand unconsciously drift toward their stack after they bet, and it's perfectly fine if you do that, but make sure you do it consistently. After a bluff, don't suddenly let your hand freeze on the felt after the chips have left it.

Are you a chip shuffler? No problem. Just make sure you continue to shuffle your chips whether you have a real hand or you're bluffing. And then, you have to make sure that you do not suddenly start shuffling your chips twice as fast during a bluff.

Your opponents are usually more observant than you give them credit for. Even if they cannot explicitly say what is different about your actions, they are likely to pick up something subconsciously. For instance, they might not realize that it's the sound of shuffling chips that had sped up, but they can tell that something is different. That detection leads to uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to failure. By keeping your actions constant, you don't give your opponents any reason to wonder why you're acting a certain way.

So, in a nutshell, be consistent. Your physical movements should remain the same whether you have a monster, a mediocre hand, or pure garbage. Don't betray yourself through your words, your actions, or your lack thereof.

The Risk/Reward Ratio

The Risk/Reward Ratio (or RRR) is one of poker's most important concepts, and it should influence almost all of your decisions. It requires you to consider three issues:

1. How much does it cost you to take a particular action?

2. How much will you win if that action succeeds?

3. What are your chances of success?

If you know all three, then you are guaranteed to make the correct play, but unfortunately that is never the case. As far as #1 goes, you always know how much it costs you to bet, call, or raise at any given time.

#2 is often known as well. You should always know approximately how much is in the pot. Even if you haven't been keeping track of it, it's sitting right in front of you, so you can easily estimate how much you stand to win. One of the nice things about playing online is that the site always tells you the pot size. It's also a nice perk of playing pot-limit poker; the dealer is required to tell you the pot size whenever you ask. But even if you're not in one of those two situations, you should always be able to accurately estimate the pot size.

Alas, #3 is almost always unknown. You'll never be able to calculate your exact chances of success, since you do not have all the information necessary to determine it. You must make your best estimate. The more accurate it is, the better you can apply the RRR, and the better your results will be.

The RRR applies to all facets of poker. It helps you decide what to do with a strong hand, a drawing hand, or one that can beat only a bluff. We could shape an entire poker book simply around the importance of the RRR. But this is, after all, The Book of Bluffs.

So let's talk bluffing.


On Sale
Jul 31, 2007
Page Count
256 pages

Mr. Matt Lessinger

About the Author

Lessinger learned poker while working in Atlantic City casinos. He currently works as a paid poker player in one of Northern California’s most popular casinosand writes for Card Player magazine.

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