We all lie. Our ability to be dishonest is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others. Being deceitful is engrained in our system, to lie is to be human. Be it lie with easy, small or big, to co-workers or loved ones or simply in a game of poker. The truth is we are all very adept with telling lies. This shouldn’t come as a surprise at all in today’s day and age.

What are the motivations behind a lie?

  • for self-aggrandizement
  • for fun
  • for personal gain
  • for the country
  • for entertainment
  • for strategic advantage
  • for story telling
  • for professional gain

Where does a poker bluff fall?

Lying for strategic advantage – misrepresentation of intentions to competitors.

Take economics or politics or military, lying for strategic advantage on planned actions or intentions is common parlance. As compared to the half-baked truth, this form of lying takes an extreme form of active misrepresentation.

Drawing a parallel with a game of poker, a bluff is nothing but lying for strategic advantage. A poker bluff is a wager made with a hand which is not thought to be the best hand but misrepresented to be a superior one.

Deceptive strategies such as camouflage are prevalent in the Animal Kingdom. Evolution and language only helped deception evolve to manipulating others in order to gain an advantage in the competition for resources and mates without causing any physical harm.

The deception only got sophisticated with a human’s cognitive ability to put themselves in another human’s shoes. Practiced unmindfully by most of us today, the theory of mind is the ability we acquire to understand the beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others. 

Here are a few pre-requisite factors when it comes to deception for strategic advantage:

  • There is a common understanding of misrepresentation either via agreements, non-statements that have minimal or no direct cost. Active deception of a hand is a commonly accepted strategy in a game of online poker.
  • All individuals are in a situation that are majorly governed by conflicting interest and therefore the success of misrepresentation is beneficial to the deceiver only at the expense of the deceived – In online poker games, your opponents are paying attention and not irrationally committing to a pot.
  • The structure of the game is common knowledge – The rules and strategies of a game of poker is known to all.
  • The interaction occurs between possibly rational or boundedly rational senders and receivers which gives a sensible account of misrepresentation of intentions – Opponents are sufficiently skilled and don’t stoop to rules not accepted in the game be it legally or ethically. Ex: Angle shooting.

 When does a player decide to bluff in a game of online poker?

  • When there are fewer opponents who must fold to the bluff.
  • When you wager causes less favourable pot odds for opponents to call.
  • A card dealt face up (a scare card) that increases the possibility of superior hand combinations that the player is perceived to have
  • The wagering pattern in the particular hand has been consistent with the superior hand they are representing with the bluff.
  • The opponent’s pattern suggests they may have a marginal hand that is vulnerable to a greater number of potential superior hands.
  • The opponent’s pattern suggests they may have a drawing hand and the bluff provides unfavorable pot odds discouraging the opponent to pursue the draw.   

A deceitful wager is of two kinds in poker:

Pure bluff

A pure bluff or a stone-cold bluff in online poker is a wager made when a hand has absolutely no chance of success unless your opponent folds. The inferior hand misrepresented has a minute or no chance of improving.


A Semi-bluff is a wager with an inferior or drawing hand that might improve in a later round. In this case the success of the bluff is plausible if the opponent folds immediately or by catching a card that improves the inferior hand.

Also Read: The Survivor Bias – Online Poker GTO Theory


A game of poker is proof that allowing bounded strategic rationality results in a sensible account of misrepresentation of intentions. What’s more important to realize is that it causes no unfair advantage due to:

  • The low cost and noiseless messages sent by the deceiver.
  • The asymmetry in payoff across actions.
  • The difficulty in justifying a zero-sum game or delicate equilibrium analysis of the game.

If you want to win at poker, deception is absolutely necessary. The trouble comes when players spend so much time deceiving competitors that it infiltrates their personal life,” quoted Daniel Negreanu aka Kid Poker in his excerpt in a National Geographic article*.


The insight provided by the world poker champion is certainly food for thought as we grapple between the pursuit of honesty and the vulnerability of being deceived in today’s world off the felts.