Bluffs should tell a story. The story needs to convince your opponents that your hand is better than theirs. The best bluffers weave their bluffs into their value bets, sizing them the same. They are the best at determining not only when they are behind in the hand, but what hand their opponent is most likely to have and how likely they are to fold it.
Take a walk through this hand with me as I try to take a pot away from a guy I've never seen before.
It was the last preliminary event of the 2013 World Series of Poker, a $1,500-buy-in no-limit hold 'em event. We were on level seven, with blinds at 150-300 and an ante of 25. It was shortly after dinner, and I had 10,000 in chips. A new player was moved to my table. He had 20,000 in chips and reeked of cigarettes and aggression. In his first hand at the table, he opened for a raise from under the gun to 650.
It was my turn third down the line, and I had Ac 10h. The standard play would be to fold, but I had a sneaking suspicion that my new tablemate's range was wide in this spot, meaning that he was more likely to be weak than his raise from under the gun suggested. Running with this hunch, I decided to reraise to 1,450.
I was risking 1,450 to win 1,350. At that price, my opponent needed to fold 52 percent of the time or more for my raise to be profitable. I felt like he was going to fold more than 54 percent of the time, and thus I reraised. I chose to do it with A-10 offsuit because if he calls, my hand can still do things postflop, and having an ace and a 10 in my hand means that those two cards can't be in his hand (the concept of card removal).
My opponent called.
The flop came Kh Jd 4c. My opponent checked. There was 3,600 in the pot and 8,600 in my stack, so my bet-sizing should have been somewhere around 1,200 -- big enough to get a fold when I'm bluffing and big enough to play for stacks when I have a value hand, yet small enough so that I lose the minimum when I'm caught bluffing. My opponent will only need to fold 25 percent of the time for this bet to be profitable. I should have bet here and then given up on the hand, but instead I made my second mistake and checked.
The turn was the 7s. My opponent bet 2,200, a pretty big bet size. The standard move is to fold in this spot, but I still felt like my opponent was weak and likely bluffing, and I didn't want him to get away with it. I could go all in, risking 8,600 to win 5,800, and I would need to get folds nearly 60 percent of the time for that move to be profitable. Or, I could call, let him bluff the river and then take it away from him. I made my third mistake and called.
The river was another king. He immediately bet 3,500, which looked weak. I went all in for 6,400, hoping to win the 11,500 that was out there. He only would have to fold a little more than a third of the time for it to be profitable.
I was wrong again. He called, rolled A-K onto its back and sent me to the showers.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings.