The late Jack Strauss, who won the 1982 World Series of Poker, was a man known for his creativity, flair and imagination at the poker table, as well as his willingness to risk all he had if he liked the odds. Once, in a no-limit hold’em game, Strauss was dealt a seven and a deuce of different suits.
It’s one of the worst starting hands in the deck ¾ one the overwhelming majority of players would throw away without a moment’s hesitation. But not Strauss; not this time. “I was on a rush,” he said, “so I raised.” One player called. The flop was 7-3-3, giving Strauss two pair, albeit with a kicker that couldn’t even beat the board. As Strauss bet again, he realized he had made a mistake. His opponent, who did not hesitate as he reached for his chips, raised Strauss $5,000. Strauss realized his opponent had a big pair in the hole, and the logical move would have been to give up the bluff and release his hand.
But Strauss called, which must have caused his opponent to question whether he, indeed, had the best hand. The fourth card was a deuce. It paired Strauss’ other hole card, but it was worthless since there was already a communal pair of threes on the board. Strauss fired out a bet: $18,000. As his opponent paused to consider whether Strauss had a hand or was bluffing, Jack Strauss leaned forward, saying: “I’ll tell you what, just gimme one of those $25 chips of yours and you can see either one of my cards ¾ whichever one you choose.” After another long pause, Strauss’ opponent tossed over a single green chip and points to one of the two cards that were face down in front of Jack Strauss. Strauss flips over the deuce. Now there’s another long pause.
Finally Jack Strauss’s opponent concludes that both cards were the same, and that Strauss made a full house ¾ deuces full of threes ¾ and throws the winning hand away.
“It was just a matter of psychology,” Strauss was reputed to have Togel said later. But to most observers it wasn’t psychology at all. It was magic, pure and simple.
NOT ALL BLUFFS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Not all bluffs are the same. Some work better in one situation that others, so let’s look at the various kinds of bluffs and distinguish between them.
BLUFFING ON THE END WITH A HOPELESS HAND
This is the classic bluff of movie lore. You’re up against an opponent, or possibly two of them. You have a hopeless hand. Perhaps it’s a straight draw that didn’t materialize. Maybe it’s a busted flush draw.
If the hands were to be shown down, you know you couldn’t possibly win. So you bet. “Nothing ventured,” you think to yourself, “nothing gained.” If you’re bluff is called, you’ll lose a bet you would have saved had you checked. But checking, of course, is tantamount to relinquishing your opportunity to win the pot.
If you bet, there’s always the chance that both your opponents will fold. If you’re not called, you’ll win the entire pot. Suppose that pot contains $100 and the cost to bet is $10. Your bluff doesn’t have to succeed all of the time ¾ or even most of the time ¾ for it to be a good decision.
If it fails nine times and succeeds only once, you will still be a winner in the long run. You’ll have lost an extra $10 nine times, or $90, but you will win $100 on one occasion, for a net win of $10.
Not a spectacular profit, perhaps, but enough to prove that bluffs only have to succeed every now and then to be worthwhile.