Monday, 26 August 2013

Bluff - Poker Face

Bluff, Bluffing, Deception, Good hand, Best hand,
I took this picture. No I didn't. Or did I?
(no I didn't - Xavier Serra did)


Noun. Late 18th century.
[Probably from the verb, to which it is certainly related, but perhaps earlier.]

1. A blinker for a horse. Now obsolete or dialectical. L18

2. The game of poker; the action or an act of bluffing, originally in poker;
threatening or confident language or behaviour adopted without basis,
in order to intimidate or mislead an opponent. Originally US. M19


Adjective. Early 17th century.
[Originally nautical, perhaps of Low Dutch origin.]

1. Presenting a broad, flattened front; (of a ship's bows) broad and with little or no rake. E17

2. figurative. (a) Rough or surly in manner; abrupt, curt. E18. (b) Good-naturedly blunt; frank, hearty. E19

Also: bluffly adverb L18. bluffness noun M19.


Verb. Late 17th century.
[Dutch bluffen brag, boast, or bluf bragging, boasting.]

1. verb trans. Blindfold, hoodwink. Now obsolete or dialectical. L17

2. verb trans. & intrans. (Attempt to) deceive or intimidate by a pretence of strength (originally in the game of poker). Originally US. M19

The game of poker is all about bluffing. Except that it isn't. But the word bluffing is all about poker, which is jolly interesting. Also interesting is that the OED's definition narrows the bluff to a pretence of strength, whereas making a pretence of weakness could also rightly be considered a bluff, as you attempt to draw an opponent into a situation that they've underestimated. In poker circles, the value of bluffing is often said to be overstated and a costly habit that beginner players often fall into as they constantly (and transparently) try and out-bluff more experienced players. Fascinatingly, while deception within a species was long thought to be a uniquely human behaviour, deception has been observed in animals, including behaviours that can be described as bluffing. For the time being, however, playing poker does remain a uniquely human behaviour, but the moment that some chimp is reported to have won a stash of bananas with a 2/7 offsuit, Lexicolatry will be sure to report.

Are you a poker player that loves to bluff?

Are you too transparent and honest to ever pull off a convincing bluff?

Do please leave your most ambiguous comments below.


  1. A friend of mine has never been caught bluffing. He recently won 5/6 of a free coffee, a stamp and an assortment of chocolate bars, but no bananas. Not too sure what this teaches us. Bibi? This one might need your brains.


    1. Sounds like a savvy player. And the rewards are plain to see.

    2. I don't know about you, but to me it means he still has a long way to go. Bananas are the way to go, Clueless, bananas are the way to go.

    3. That's banan ... no, nuts ... that's nuts; that's what that is.

  2. There's all manner of poker-related slang, and I'm guessing a lot of it hasn't made it into the OED.

    Failing to bet a strong hand in order to feign weakness isn't generally known as bluffing, but rather as slowplaying.

    There's also the semi-bluff, where one represents a hand one hasn't made yet, but could - e.g. making a big bet when holding four cards of the same suit. The semi-bluffer would prefer everyone to fold, but if someone calls, he still has a chance to make his flush.

    1. That's what fascinating about bluff - that it's not even slang in general language now, and most people (including poker players like myself) wouldn't even first associate it with poker.

      You're right about the technicality of what's termed a 'bluff' - which is in line with what the OED says. Personally, I'd consider showing yourself to be very weak as a bluff though (both in poker and other situations). There's a similar thing in online FPSs (now I'm really showing my geek-cred), in which a well-armed player will pop their head around a corner and take a few pot shots with a pistol or some other weak weapon in the hope that someone will storm after him only to find he's actually got a BFG.