I love bluffing. I’m not the greatest bluffer in the world, but when I pull one off, it is immensely satisfying. I hate getting bluffed, though. If I lose a hand, I lose a hand, but to have someone steal a pot that is rightfully mine is irksome, to say the least.
Normally when I sniff out a bluff, regardless of whether or not I actually call my opponent on it, I am quite logical and reasonable. I analyze how the hand played out until that point, consider the tendencies of my opponent and all that jazz, and decide that he is bluffing. However, sometimes my emotions get the best of me. I convince myself that my opponent is up to no good because of some irrational feeling in my gut. Admit it, you’ve been there, too.
But why do we sometimes think someone is trying to pull a fast one on us at the poker table when we have no real reason to believe so? Here are the two reasons to which I can point:
Misapplied Ego
I am a very humble poker player. There are times, though, when I am just convinced that I am the best player at the table. Chances are that I am wrong about that more often than not, but there are just those days when I think everyone else is an idiot. It is on these days that I find myself thinking everyone is trying to bluff me out of pots.
Say I raise pre-flop and get called by one player. My initial thought on these days of unfounded delusions of superiority is that this guy is a moron just for calling. I mean, hasn’t he noticed that I play tight and that my raises mean that I have something good? Then, I may make a continuation bet on the flop if I miss or not hit a monster. If he comes over the top, it’s like it’s an attack on my character or something. How can this guy step on me when I am quite obviously the best player here? There’s little possibility that he actually has a better hand since he is not good. Even if he does have the better hand, it still has to be weak. It just has to be. He’s scared to keep going in the hand with me. Therefore, he must be bluffing. Only a dummy would try to bluff me.
I know this makes no sense at all. To think that because I am a better player than someone else, he can’t have the good fortune to have been dealt a better hand is preposterous. To assume someone playing back at me is doing so because he is bad is even sillier. Misapplied ego, indeed.
We’ve all experienced this at some point. Every time we make a move, we get picked off. No matter how tight we have been playing, it seems that whenever we actually try to run a bluff, someone fights back. If we do have a good hand, someone has one that’s better. Nothing goes right.
It is during these sessions that paranoia sets in. Even though we know we can play well, self-doubt bubbles to the surface. Everyone is gunning for us and there is nothing we can do to defend ourselves.  It gets to the point that whenever someone raises our bets, we assume they are bluffing because they too see that we are vulnerable. If they call our raise pre-flop, we are sure they are trying to make it look like a smooth call. If they keep calling our bets after the flop, they are just setting us up to pop a big bet on the river to make it look like they hit a draw. There is just nothing we can do about any of it. We have lost confidence; paranoia is confusing us to the point of paralysis.
As you may have noticed, the above emotionally-based reasons for assuming people are bluffing are basically polar opposites. With one, we have too much confidence in our abilities. With the other, we have too little.
The most important thing is to be able to identify when we are letting our reads and decisions be affected by our emotions rather than logic and reason. It’s not always easy, but I try to be aware of when I am getting flustered, regardless of whether it is because my ego is flying out of control or my psyche is rattled. It usually helps me to take a break, even if it’s just to get a drink of water, and let myself cool down a bit. During that break, I am able to do a quick evaluation of my play to determine if my bluff reads are legit or just products of my emotion. It’s really all a practice in stress management, so in the end, you can do whatever works best for you.

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