Scott,

Is raising under the gun with rags on a very tight table ever something you would do to indicate a strong hand in a tourney when the blinds are worth stealing, in the hope that everyone will fold?

-- Billy

Dear Billy,

Yes!

What you've found is a good example of a particular spot where you know a raise would indicate strength. Starting out with just that one idea, you can build an entire story that will be told through your actions each step of the way for the entire hand. Some call this bluffing, but I prefer to call it "storytelling."

A common misconception is that bluffing only happens when you have a bad hand and attempt to steal the pot. In fact, you should be bluffing/storytelling in every hand that you play. When you are strong, you will be bluffing that you are weak. And of course there is the more common "pretend I'm strong when I'm weak" scenario. The goal is to make your opponent buy the story you are selling.

This is an important concept that can help you maximize the amount of money you make off a hand. Keep in mind that each action you take needs to correlate with the story you are telling. Failure in this area can create suspicion and prompt opponents to react differently than you had intended.

Let's see if I can break this down a bit and give you an example of a bluff in progress.


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We begin with bad cards under the gun -- let's say 10c 7h. Since the table is very tight, you adjust (correctly) and begin to get more active. You mentioned that the blinds are worth stealing. So now what? Insert your story -- that you have a strong hand -- in any place where you can envision it being believed based on the context of all other current table conditions.

These blind steals need to work a high percentage of the time in order to make it worth the risk. The reward is fruitful if you do it right because you can reuse the same story over and over once you're sure that it was successfully delivered. To make the most believable story possible, you need to combine elements that are widely considered to be true with elements that are believed to be true for you specifically. It's commonly perceived that raising under the gun shows strength, but we know that isn't always the case. In order to back up that initial story, you have to sync it with aspects of your table image that other players will also equate with strength, thereby confirming for them the belief that you are strong and earning the fold.

How much did you raise the last time from this spot? How much have you been raising when you are strong? These are among the factors that determine your table image. That image comes into play very heavily while storytelling. The idea is to behave in a manner consistent with what the other players have witnessed and then use their memories against them. Did they see you get caught stealing?

Well then, the next time you are strong, you should try to re-create the earlier scenario and make your opponents think you're trying to steal again.

If you are successful with your story, your opponents will begin to pay you off when you're strong and they aren't, believing that you have nothing. Or they'll start folding stronger and stronger hands when you really do have nothing.

Scott Fischman is a professional poker player in the live and online worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings.