Howard Lederer on When to Bluff

Lederer:  I actually think people overvalue being unpredictable and mixing their play up and taking negative expectation plays.  I think poker is a game where you’re constantly trying to find the right play, and you should be doing it really in most hands.  But, you know, the right play also does include plays that may not work out.  I mean, if there is $1,000 in the pot and there’s a situation where a flush is hit and you’re going to bet $1,000, you know, if you’re going to have the flush there a fair amount of the time, you are absolutely obligated in that situation to bluff, so if you’re going to have a flush 66% of the time that you bet there, that’s going to give your opponent just the right price to either call or fold, right?  So, if you never bluff, then you’re just not betting at that pot enough.  If every time you had the straight draw and the flush hits and you just check and lose the pot.  So, what poker is all about is a certain percentage of your bets in that situation are going to be bluffs.  The bad bluffs… so, you’re going to have to check some times.  You’re going to miss and check because you’re certainly going to not have the flush more often than you have the flush, but if you know that you’re going to make a flush a certain percent of the time, you need to bluff a certain percent of the time, about half as often as you have it.  That’s the correct thing.  Now, what poker is all about is finding the right time for the bluff, you know, and, you know…  So I think poker comes down to more than that.  I mean, when I bluff, am I making a bad play for positive expectation?  No.  I’m actually trying to maximize that as a particular situation where I know I need to have it a certain percent of the time.  I need to bluff a certain percent of the time, and kind of the art of poker is kind of trying to pick the right time for the bluff, knowing that you wouldn’t always be right, but, you know, I don’t really, I’m not a big believer in, “Oh, well.  I got caught bluffing.  Now people are going to think I’m a loose player and give me all this action.  I’m feeling like, boy, maybe that wasn’t the right time to bluff.  I did something wrong in that hand.”  You know, your [IB] game needs to be bluff about 1/3 of the time, have it about 2/3 of the time, but it’s all about finding those right spots, and that comes down to just playing each hand well, just making a lot of good decisions.  There are certain, you know, there is a particular kind of play at least that I like to make where I know I’m making a, you know, sort of a negative expectation play and I feel like I get a lot of value in other spots and those are situations where someone makes a bet at me.  I like to call a little more than might be exactly correct to call.  If someone’s making that same bet, again, I need to be at least about 1/3 of the time, I need to be catching a bluff for, there’s $1,000 in the pot, the players bet $1,000, so if I put $1,000 in the pot I’m getting $2,000 back.  So, I need to win that pot.  I need to be catching a bluff at least 1/3 of the time.  But, you know, if you told me, you know, they’re only bluffing 30% of the time, I would still call almost all the time because I don’t want to give people the feeling like I can be pushed around, and I feel like I get benefit.  If they see that I’m willing to call maybe a little more than I’m supposed to, I think they’re going to not bluff at me in certain situations where we both don’t have a good hand, and I’m going to actually win some pots over the course of a night or a career where it wouldn’t have even been a matter of bluffing, or maybe someone checks to me where they would have bluffed and now I get to bluff back at them.  As they went check, they showed weakness.  Now, I have a weak hand, now I get to bluff, whereas if they had bet I would have lost the pot.  So, I think you get a lot of value in those types of situations.  I think those do apply to business.  In particular, again, sort of negotiating strategy, and that is kind of just sort of sending a message, particularly if you’re in a negotiating situation where there are others that might be aware of the negotiation.  I think every once in a while you have to be willing to take the worst of it, maybe walk away from the deal that’s marginally good to kind of show, you know, that particular, you know, industry that’s trying to make deals with you, that you’re willing to walk away from a deal.  Even though in isolation, if this was the only deal available to you, you might have taken.  So, I mean, I think there are some applications that are directly, you know, and particularly in negotiations, trying… and really, I think that’s where the biggest sort of crossover is, because, you know, poker is essentially a negotiation over the middle pot, right?  And, you know, you’re using, you have, you know the strength of your hand.  You suspect what the strength of your opponent’s hand is and then it’s a big negotiation over that pot, and essentially that’s what happens when you’re negotiating over business deals.

The Poker Professor advises a careful approach to overstating your hand.

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