Perhaps the most important aspect of poker strategy is to pay attention. Watching the players around you gives vital clues about their hand strength, allowing you to adapt your game play when faced with obvious patterns. Being aware of your bankroll and chip stack are also imperative, as neglecting to manage your poker money or entering games beyond your means can lead rapidly to going bust.
Examining each opponent’s playing style will prove tremendously helpful to spotting a bluff, in addition to better preparing you to pull off a successful bluff. In the course of play, try to identify certain characteristics that will enable you to categorize every player’s behavior as tight or loose, and aggressive or passive.
The terms tight and loose refer to a player’s likeliness to fold a weak hand. Tight players will often fold before the flop in early position unless they have a strong starting hand. Bluffs from tight players will almost always be issued from late position, usually with a mediocre hand that might stand half a chance at winning if the bluff fails. A hyper-tight poker player may not bluff at all. Loose players, on the other hand, will frequently stay in the pot with weak hole cards to see the flop, and possibly the turn and river, as well.
Aggressive and passive describe the betting patterns of poker players. People who often take the lead in opening and raising the bet are labeled aggressive, whereas players who frequently call or place value bets (when they don’t fold) are considered passive. Aggressive players generally try to force the rest of the table to fold, as opposed to passive players who, when holding a very strong hand, will not bet more than they think another player is willing to call so as to keep them from folding.
If you spend time analyzing the playing style of each new opponent, you will begin to see a pattern emerge. Loose, aggressive players will bluff often, and though they may lose chips frequently, they make up for it with huge wins when they finally hit a strong hand because everyone thought they were bluffing. Watching such individuals closely may uncover a tell when they actually do have a strong hand. A tight, passive player will rarely ever raise, and will usually fold if they don’t think their hand is strong enough to win, slowly accumulating a profit by playing the odds. It is easier to force such a player to fold, but watch out if they call your bluff.
Each player is going to be different, with varying levels of passivity / aggression and looseness / tightness, with some players being downright erratic and unpredictable. Always pay attention to how each hand is played, and especially be alert when a hand comes to a showdown. The showdown is where you learn what a player was willing to ride to the end.