Learning how to play poker is easy enough. Even learning all the variations and how to bet is pretty straightforward. The hard part is winning. As with (almost) all card games, there is definitely an element of luck. If someone has a great hand, they will probably win. If you have a rubbish hand, you will probably lose. Probably.
The technique you must learn (or 'art form', as some would call it) to turn the odds to your favour is bluffing. In case you don't know, bluffing means tricking, fooling, conning - or, if you prefer, lying. If you're bad at bluffing, or you do not apply it, people can often tell what sort of hand you have, especially if you are playing with good players.
Bluffing is one of the two steps you need to follow to win - or, at least, become a better player, which is not necessarily the same thing. The other is trying to discover what sort of cards the other players have.
Okay, you've sat down, put on your mysterious sunglasses and stuck a huge cigar in your mouth. You've got your vodka martini at hand and a beautiful, bikini-clad woman (or other attractive life-form, according to preference) looming over your chair. Now what?
Well, you get your cards. You look at them quickly, then either keep them in your hand, or put them face down on the table - although in the latter case, you need to keep them close at hand, or the dealer might think that you are folding. Now take a good, hard look at the other players. Unless you're some kind of genius, you will not know right away what kind of hands the others have. But you can get an idea - especially if you are playing with regular poker players. This is due to something called...
This is where the way you play gets into a pattern, and means that other players can figure out what sort of hand you have. Think about what kind of hands people bet with, and how much they bet, as well as whether or not they raise the stakes. If you play with the same group of players a lot, you can develop this skill slowly to put yourself at an advantage. If your opponent is someone you have never played before, don't panic - they don't know your patterns of behaviour any more than you know theirs. You just have to pick up on their patterns of play as quickly as you can.
Rhythmic behaviour is not limited to the amount of money you are willing to bet. There are more giveaways. For example, if you see someone who rubs his brow/removes her glasses/sips a drink/quickly slams her cards face down1 every time he or she has a good hand, you know to fold your cards. You can of course, use this to your advantage, slamming your cards down and looking around when you have a weak hand to make people think it is good, so they fold and you win.
Another common sign is in the handling of betting chips or money. Sometimes people split their money into piles, separating what they are going to bet from the rest. This is a mistake. Do not let people know how much you will bet or raise before your turn. You must remember to think about your own rhythmic behaviour, and here is what to do about it: avoid it.
This can be quite difficult, but you have to think about it. If you find that you are betting £30 every time you have two pairs, stop it. If you find that you bet £100 when you have four of a kind, why not bet the same amount when you have an ace high, thus scaring people off?
Bluffing consists of scaring people away from betting or attracting people to bet. If you have a brilliant hand, you have to make people think you have a poor one. They're then likely to bet high, and you win an optimum amount of money. If you have a poor hand, you have to make people think you have a brilliant one, thus scaring them off and making them fold.
Some people like to play consecutively, and bet according to their hand - fold with a poor one, and bet with a good one. Don't do this. Instead, to confuse people, lure them into thinking you are a consecutive player then bet high with a rubbish hand, scaring everyone off. If you win due to everyone else folding or you fold, you do not need to show anyone your hand - in fact, it is often considered bad etiquette to do so. Since no one sees the hand, you can repeat the bluff. An elaborate bluff like this does require one thing though, other than bravery...
Practice makes perfect in all games that require skill. So don't start off playing against high rollers in Las Vegas. Start small, and work up. And that's about it. Play a lot, practise a lot, and you'll get there. Happy bluffing!
Semi-bluffing - This is where you have an okay hand (say, two pairs) which could win, but you make it look as though your hand is better. This is safer than outright bluffing, ie, betting high with a terrible hand.
Double-bluffing - This is an elaborate way of bluffing, where you make people think you are bluffing when in fact you are not - which paradoxically means that you are bluffing. For example, you could bet high, wanting others to think that you are pretending you have a good hand - when you do in fact have a good hand. The idea is to stay one step ahead of your opponents.