Bluffing is the beauty of poker. Without it, the game would just come down to getting good cards at a good moment. Hardly anything compares to the excitement of pushing all your chips in on stone-cold bluff. Big bluffs can, however, backfire, and if used too often or improperly can be a costly move.
A Mini-Bluff is a preliminary bluff you make to better gauge your position and possibly prep yourself for a bigger bluff. When you want to "buy the pot" and bluff out an opponent you think is weak, you make the minimum raise possible in the current round of betting. After they call, make your real bluff on the next round of betting and take down the pot.
Let’s consider an example. Let's say you're playing $1-2 no limit with good positioning. Josh makes a pre-flop raise of $15. The next few players fold and the action is to you. You look down at J-10 of diamonds. You know this is a "hidden hand" that could bust Josh if something good hits on the flop, so you call.
It's just you and Josh heads-up. The flop hits: 7h-9s-2c
Not exactly the flop you had hoped for. It gives you an inside straight draw, which means you have outs, but you know better than to chase an inside straight draw.
Josh represents the flop and bets $25. You sense he doesn't have anything because he has been trying that same bet all night. There's no way that flop helped him. If he really is weak, this is your chance to buy the pot.
The best course of action here is to make a minimum raise. Come back over Josh and make it $50 to play. This is your “Mini-Bluff.”
By doing this, you're taking control of the action and finding out exactly where you stand in the hand. Most likely, Josh will call your raise. If he has something really good, he'll re-raise you, in which case you should fold.
However, if your read was correct and Josh is weak, he will make the call regardless. The reason he won't fold is because he made the original bet. And since you only raised him the minimum amount, it won't be enough to scare him off.
OK, so Josh calls, and the turn hits 7d. Josh is first to act again, but this time taps his fist against the table and checks. This is what you have been hoping for. Now it's time to make a real bluff and buy this pot. So you fire away.
The main benefits of the Mini-Bluff are two-fold:
- It gives you control in the hand and gives you better read on your opponents. When you raise your opponent, you automatically assume a level of control. If your opponent re-raises, he takes control again. The entire point of a bluff is to get your opponent to fold. If he feels like he's in control, he won't fold, and your bluff won't work. In our example, Josh could have easily had something like A-9 (and hit top pair) or an over pair or whatever. You didn't think he had something good, but it's tough to know for sure. Your Mini-Bluff eliminates the confusion. If Josh had a monster, he would have either come back over the top with a re-raise, or he would have bet after the turn card.
- It improves your bluff by making it less risky and more believable. A minimum raise is much safer than trying to buy the pot outright, especially when you're not completely sure your opponent is weak. The Mini-Bluff prevents pot-commitment and leaves you room to get out of the hand if necessary. Your bluff also becomes more believable as it doesn't appear that you are bluffing, which, of course, is the main idea. After your opponent calls your Mini-Bluff, he's likely confused about your hand and that is the perfect setup for taking down the pot. The Mini-Bluff is a great addition to your bag of tricks. As with all strategies, use wisely. Don't get careless with it or use it too much. You need to have good positioning and a good sense of your opponent’s hand.