There's a powerful poker concept evident in only small stakes or low-limit games. This is particularly noteworthy because it's one piece of poker strategy not reserved for the pro players. In fact, it belongs all to us. It's the concept of implicit collusion.
I first became aware of this term from Lee Jones' Winning Low Limit Hold 'Em, which incidentally is a phenomenal book that I waited too long to read. In reviewing the differences between big money tables and low-limit tables, Jones introduces us to a logic reserved for loose games.
Briefly, a loose game is one where players: i) gamble more, ii) play worse hands, iii) don't know when to quit, iv) throw away alot of money, etc. Most home games follow this vein, and the concept that we cover here may be no news to you. In fact, even before reading about it in Jones' book, I was applying it without even knowing it.
The concept of implicit collusion is where stakes are so low or players are so loose that you can count on more players staying in the pot everytime, even when their hands are lousy. The importance of this is where bluffing is concerned, and it's two-fold.
People love to tell stories about the pots they've won on bluffs. These stories are kind of like slot machine stories...you only ever here the successful ones. The fact is that most players that bluff with a frequency incorrect for their table lose more money overall than they gain. They either don't know it or deny it. At the very least, they lose more money through incorrect plays than they gain by bluffing.
We've said it before, but a bluff that fails to fold every hand by showdown is a failed bluff and a waste of money (for the picky among you, this doesn't include the semi-bluff, meant more to thin the herd by folding a few hands than to fold everybody). And in your average home game, you'll be lucky to fold every player at the table. Your best bet is to be heads-up with one of the tight players at the table, and attempt to bluff him out. Up against two or more players and you're taking a huge chance.
The point is not to omit bluffing from your arsenal. If you never bluff, you'll never make money on your strong hands because everybody else will fold. The point is that you must limit your bluffing. When too many players stay in on too many hands, your odds are slim. Effectively, you're up against implicit collusion, but more on that later.
Be more inclined to fold to a potential bluff
Nobody likes to be in this spot. A tough player at the table throws a bet in. It could mean anything. He either has a strong hand and is betting for value, a mediocre hand and is semi-bluffing, or a weak hand and is pure-bluffing. You have to decide what's stronger: your pride or your bankroll. Here's a valuable piece of advice: if there are a few other players in the pot, be more inclined to fold a mediocre-to-trash hand.
This is what implicit collusion is all about. First of all, collusion means an agreement between players. Collusion of any other nature is cheating, such as exchanging signals, sandwiching, not betting into each other (see Poker Cheating for much more information on collusion). But, implicit collusion is the great hidden agreement between players. It's the agreement that bluffers will be kept honest by at least one other player staying in the pot.
If the player to my immediate right bets first and bets big, I have a big decision to make with my mediocre hand. My hand is only strong enough to beat a bluff, and the other three players in the pot behind me have yet to act. What do I do? More times than not, I fold. Because of how loose the game is, I can count on one of these other players staying in the pot and keeping the potential bluffer honest. My mediocre hand would crumble to anything with strength, but I can count on one of my poker-playing brothers at the table to take this bettor to task.
Be aware though that it's not always as easy as that. If you are left in the pot with only tight players or few players, it's possible everybody will fold in which case the bluffer will have one of his stories to tell. The concept of implicit collusion is not foolproof. It's like check-raising; if nobody bets when you check, you can't raise and your plan failed.
It's in this way that the discussion comes full circle. You can count on somebody to keep the potential bluffer honest...therefore, when you are bluffing, you can count on at least one other player staying in the pot against you.
It's for this reason that you should bluff less. It's likely that you're throwing money away, barring those times where you get a miracle card to win the game. It's very easy to be tempted into bluffing more when you hear other players talk about their successful bluffing. Remember that these stories are like slot machine stories, and I can assure you that slot machines only make money for their owners.
This isn't to say that bluffing should be avoided, only minimized. The key is to ensure that other players know you are capable of bluffing. This is enough to keep them on the ropes. For what little bluffing I do, I'm usually sure to show the entire table that I was bluffing, whether it worked or not. It creates the perfect advertising that keeps my opponents curious the next time I bet out with a strong hand.