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Book Review: The Book of Bluffs

November 8th, 2017

Originally released in 2005, Matt Lessinger’s The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker is still relevant over a decade later. That's because rather than discuss poker in generic terms, he drills down into the nitty gritty of one key aspect of the game: bluffing. The following post reviews and breaks-down all the most important tips from Lessinger's classic!

Title and Foreword

The title itself is a call back to a similar book by poker journalist Mike Caro called The Book of Tells. Caro clearly sees this book as an encouraging progression on his ideas, as he penned the foreword for Lessinger. In his preface, Caro convincingly argues that bluffing is one of the main foundations of poker. He goes so far as to state that "bluffing is married to poker’s nature."

What Caro does is sell the book to the unconvinced and persuades readers to invest the time and effort into what Lessinger is describing in almost anatomic detail. Of the book, he writes:

"Near the very beginning, he’ll tell you that a good bluff should be misleading, but not confusing. That’s a critical vision and one that will save you a lot of money, once you make it part of your everyday tactics. But Matt goes far, far beyond explaining the nature of bluffing. He tells you how to do it successfully and often incorporates player personalities into the equation."

Introduction to Bluffing

Lessinger eases his readers into the world of bluffing and subterfuge with some key points about when to bluff, how to control your bluffing and overall game, and the ever-important correlation between risk and reward. After his rousing introduction, he opens with a chapter called 'Twelve Bluffing Proverbs'. These are often repeated throughout the book to illustrate that the author holds them in the highest regards. Some examples:

  • There are only two ways to win a pot: you can show down the best hand, or bluff with the worst one.
  • If you never get called, you can never lose.
  • Loose players look for reason to call, while tight players look for reasons to fold.
  • Poker is a game of information.
  • Good position makes everything easier.
  • Your opponents’ mistakes become your profit.

The last one may seem fairly self-evident, but this book is not about defeating other players at the table. It is about using bluffs to make money and pushing an opponent to make more mistakes than you. "Bluffing is a form of artistry," the author writes in the introduction, adding, "and as far as I am concerned, it’s the most beautiful thing about poker."

Poker Patterns

Before Lessinger starts dissecting different types of bluffs, he makes sure that whether the reader is new to poker or a seasoned pro, everyone's is on the same page. In addition to placing a glossary of Abbreviations and Terminology at the start of the book rather than the end, he also dives into the mathematics of poker patterns. These are observed in other players, including calling and betting patterns that will soon become second nature.

The Bluffs

One of the most entertaining aspects of the book is the names that Lessinger labels his bluffs with, such as Club Fear, From Gunshot to Glory and Dropping the All-In Bomb. The bluffs themselves are divided into several well-organised chapters:

  • Basic Bluffs
  • Attacking Weakness (Drawing Hands)
  • Attacking Weakness (Other Hands)
  • Representing Strength
  • The Implied Threat
  • Online Bluffs
  • Unusual Bluffs
  • Bail-Out Bluffs
  • WSOP Bluffs and Interviews

While the interview section might be a little dated, covering games from 1978 up to 2004, they are with well-regarded players like Chris Moneymaker, Gavin Griffin and Ron Stanley. These are players who bluffed at the highest level of their game and won. Even now, their insight proves invaluable to putting what Lessinger describes into context.

Back in 2005, online poker was proving itself as a popular option, so Lessinger devotes a chapter to bluffing when you cannot see your opponent. Mike Caro was actually the face of Planet Poker in 1999. What both he and Lessinger did not see coming was the Black Friday of 2011 that saw the US Department of Justice freeze many online poker companies across the border.

Since then, many countries have ratified their online gambling laws. Many provinces in Canada allow online poker, while others classify it as a legal grey area. By the end of the book, the author provides players with a comprehensive toolkit for bluffing if it's called upon. It's not designed to teach players how to play poker, but rather to encourage them to start bluffing more and ensure that players win more than when they are just dealt a good hand.