If there is one thing that separates intermediate players from good players it is definitely the use of psychological plays and maneuvers. An intermediate player, even one that understands the fine mathematical schemes that poker entails, usually plays the board and not the players against him. Most new players do not understand that it is not enough to know your opponents and the style they play (passive, tight…). A good player should know what his opponents think about him and know how to convey a certain table image. There are several principle methods to deceive your opponents and lead them to believe what you want them to.
The first and most famous method of poker deception is known as bluffing. Funny enough bluffing, the term most associated with poker in general, is hardly being used today. Fact is that when playing low limit games (2-4 or lower) there is very little good in bluffing as you are more then likely to be called to the river. Bluffing is a very important poker skill but it should be used only in higher limit games, where people tend not throw their money away. If you are trying to bluff you should usually do so when the board represents a possible strong hand. For instance, if there is a possible straight on the board, your opponents might interpret it as you are holding the straight. Of course it is important to remember that your opponents might really have the straight. Bluffing tends to be lot more affective when playing no-limit games, as the size of your bet might scare more opponents.
Another type of poker deception is referred to as semi-bluffing. Semi-bluffing means that although you currently do not hold a strong hand you have a good chance to draw a strong hand on the turn or river. For instance, you might have to suited cards and the flop has two cards from the same suite. You might have nothing at this point but you have a good chance to draw a flush. Raising or betting at this point would be considered as semi bluffing. Semi bluffing can be quite useful, even at low-limit games and especially in no-limit games.
Slowplaying is a poker deception that is actually being used when you have the strongest hand on the flop. If the game is reasonably tight you do not want scare away all your opponents. By betting heavily on the flop you might cause most or all players to fold and thus lower your winnings. By slowplaying you are trying to keep as many player with you to the river or turn. Then you would start jamming the pot with as money bets as possible. Slowplaying should be done with some caution. First you need to be quite sure that your hand is the strongest hand at the table and that your opponents are not likely to draw a better hand. You know that the only chance you will be able to get any of your bets called is if your opponents will draw a stronger hand on the river or turn (of course still weaker than yours).
Thomas Pears, Editor
January 4, 2006