Beginning poker players use poker strategies like bluffing and slow playing without knowing what they gain from it. Because of that, they tend to use it incorrectly, bluffing at times when it is not advantageous to do so. Or more often they do not maximize the potential of such strategies. What a poker player needs to understand is that bluffing and slow playing is just one of the many tools of deception, one of the key strategies in poker.
The main point behind deception as a key strategy in poker is that, all players do not know what your cards are. This means that even if you have a weak hand, you could still win the pot if you lure your opponents into thinking that you have a winning hand.
Of course, the most obvious tools for deception are bluffing and slow playing. Bluffing means that you play even if your hand is weak. Slow-playing means betting a meager amount, or just calling most of the time, even if you have a great hand.
Both of these tools are often misinterpreted as a poker strategy in themselves. What beginning poker players miss is that bluffing and slow playing is only a part of a bigger strategy: creating a table image.
A table image is what other players read as your behavior. Since other players do not know what cards you are holding, they will infer it through changes in your physical behavior like facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language; and also in your game behavior like betting patterns, pot odds, and fold or flop percentages.
Creating a table image is the main point of deception. Once you lead players into reading you in a certain way, it would be easy to predict their actions towards you and in reaction to you. Bluffing and slow-playing are the means and ends in creating a table image.
For example, you could paint a picture of yourself as a low-risk player, that is, one that only bets when one’s hand is good. If you lure other players into thinking so, then players have a high chance of falling into a bluff. Slow-playing would also be favorable, in order to make other players bet more largely.
It is important to remember that there are two general kinds of table image: a consistent pattern of behavior and an erratic behavior. The goal of having a consistent pattern is to lure your opponents into predicting your behavior in a certain kind of way, that a deviation from that behavior would surely make you win that round. Erratic behavior, on the other hand, avoids any sort of prediction, making sure that your opponents do not know what your next action would be.
Remember: a good poker strategy is a strategy that considers deception as a general tool in winning games. Bluffing and slow-playing are just components of this key strategy. The main goal of a poker player should be to create table images that would lure opponents into following your actions, and in the end, giving you the pot.