Why is it so important to learn how to in online poker?
If there were no bluffs in poker, over the long run only the strength of your cards would matter and with luck getting shared over large timeframes, everyone would break even. Except that the rake taken by the online poker rooms would make a dent in everyone's wallet.
So it is not really news to say that bluffing is to poker what a hook is to a fisherman (in fact this analogy can be taken figuratively or literally). You must master the skill of bluffing and also the skill of catching bluffs.
If you never bluff, you cannot win at online poker (or maybe you can, but not beyond the micro-stakes). And if you never attempt to catch a bluff, then you cannot be a great player either, or even a good player. So how do you catch a bluff?
The first thing to be aware of is that it is harder to catch bluffs in online poker than in live poker, because there are no physical tells online. Think about the famous quote from the movie The Gambler From Natchez:
"How did you know he was bluffing?"
"He kept looking back at his hole cards. If you got it, you don't need to keep looking back to see what you got."
Ok, but if you play poker at an online casino or poker room, you do not need to check your hole cards as they are constantly visible to you. Without physical tells, you have to pay attention to other clues to determine if a poker player is bluffing or not.
Here are some techniques to help you spot online poker bluffs.
Know your opponents: Some players tend to bluff more than others. Tight-passive players (also-called nits) play a straightforward ABC game, and if one of them starts betting the ranch, it is almost sure that he has a monster. Conversely, maniacs bluff very often. And all players in between bluff more or less.
Know your opponents, take extensive notes and use online poker software tools that can help you read your opponents during and after the games. As hand histories analysis let you review in details other players' actions, it is important to scan for crucial showdowns, revealing successful or failed bluffs.
Some poker players are very immature and like to flash their successful bluffs. Make sure to take a note of that and here you have found a chronic bluffer. Usually he will not bluff soon after flashing his cards because this action is a hoax to lure other players into doubting his bets when he has a big hand. But either much later in the game or another day in the future, you must remember that this is a player who likes to bluff.
Recognize betting patterns: poker players tend to bet differently when they have a big hand than when they are bluffing. For example it is natural to bet more with a real hand than a bluff.
Some players like to deceive a lot, so they may make a small bet with a monster and a big bet with a bluff in order to force their opponents to fold. Other players tend to bet less with a bluff because they do not like to take big risks. Recognizing each player's habits with his betting patterns is vital.
Pay attention to speed: it usually takes some time to pull off a large bluff, while a monster hand does not require any time for tanking.
Only a minority of online poker players are truly skilled at masquerading their thinking time. Typically bluffs take more time than non-bluffs. A very common mistake at low and mid-stakes games is for players to act rapidly when their decision is easy and slower when their decision is harder. Spot these types of players for future profits. Also identify the tricky players who purposely attempt to mislead you with the speed of their actions.
Detect weird actions: sometimes an action does not seem to make sense, indicating a good chance for a bluff. Rethink all the steps of the hand in your head, and see if this smells like a bluff.
A simple case is a player who is pretty straightforward makes a preflop raise, and you are the only one to call. The flop is AT3 rainbow and he makes a standard continuation bet, you call. The turn is a blank that delivers a flush draw. He checks and you check. The river completes the flush, and he makes instantly a pot-sized bet, representing the flush.
Chances are he has a set, missed his attempt to check-raise at the turn and his set is unimproved by the river. So if you have a low flush you can raise him, as he probably does not have a flush.
Be on the lookout for players tilting: a player who is very upset by a bad beat will want instant compensation. He will play in a way to get his money back as soon as possible.
Players on tilt are often culprits of big bluffs. They will play carelessly and take big risks. Ideally you want to induce a player on tilt to make big bluffs so that you can trap him.
In order to maximize your online poker profits, you must develop the skill of catching bluffs.
It is a matter of practice and courage. Sometimes you will fail and you will lose a big pot versus a monster hand, and your opponent will berate you and call you a fish. No worries, this is part of the game. You cannot have a 100% success rate, so you must be ready for such failures.
But if you never attempt to catch a bluff, your poker skills will stagnate.