by Joe James
With the 2019 Doomtown World Championship in Tombstone, AZ just around the corner, there’s no better time to talk about arguably the most crucial poker mechanic: bluffing! Most games with some aspect of hidden information can lend themselves to bluffing. Simply defined, bluffing is an act of deceit to misrepresent ones abilities or intentions. Sometimes you want to represent strength when you are weak, and sometimes you want to appear weak when you are actually strong. Whether you wish to employ bluffing tactics yourself, or simply be on the lookout for bluffs from other players, knowledge of bluffing strategies in Doomtown is crucial to success.
Bullying with Weak Dudes
Perhaps the best example of bluffing in Doomtown is being aggressive with a weak dude against one or more strong dudes. You move your single, low bullet draw dude to a spot with one or more big stud dudes, hopefully resulting in a callout. Or perhaps your draw dude calls out a big stud dude at a deed where your dude has no adjacent friends to join his pose. Similarly, that draw dude initiates a job such as Kidnappin by himself against a scary posse of potential stud dudes.
In any of these cases, your opponent will have some thinking to do, because there are a lot of reasons one might do this:
-Your hand may contain powerful shootout and cheatin’ resolution actions to decimate any stud opposition, thereby leveling the playing field. If your deck is tightly structured, you could even swing the advantage to your favor.
– Perhaps more nefariously, you have a card like Takin Ya With Me, and you expect your dude to take out an opposing dude along with himself.
-Maybe your opponent needs to boot most or all of their dudes into the shootout in order to join, thus pulling a bunch of their dudes out of position. Possibly you could have some Unprepared’s in your hand, and you simply want to boot down the opposition. This is where tracking board position, control, and influence become important. Your opponent may win the shootout, but if you can stroll into their deeds unchecked to deny their income, or even seal a win with captured control points, then your (potentially small) sacrifice was very much worth it.
– Depending on the game state, it may simply be a last ditch effort ‘Hail Mary’ because all other options have been removed. This is usually very obvious, and is a follow up to previous losses.
-The last reason is a pure bluff where you hope your opponent assumes one of the above scenarios will happen. Fearful of such results, they simply go home booted. Of course, that is a very risky play to make, as once you issue a call out or run a job, all they have to do is accept or oppose. Unfortunately, by then it’s too late for you to back out (unless you have a tricky card like Make the Smart Choice ).
Sometimes it is in your interest to simply move a dude unbooted into a location to feign strength. If I’m planning for all my dudes to remain at my home for the turn, I will often put a dude into the Town Square or an adjacent deed. IÕm banking on the assumption that my opponent will either not want to chance a shootout because they aren’t ready yet, or that they will fear tricks in my hand and don’t want to risk the shootout. If they call my bluff and call out my dude, I’ve lost nothing other than my dude being booted at home instead of unbooted. But since I didn’t plan to use that dude anyway, I’ve really not lost anything. In fact, I’ve only gained information that my opponent is signaling that they feel strongly positioned for shootouts, or at least strong enough to deal with my little draw dude and any tricks I may have in hand. Of course, they could also be bluffing, but calling out a bluff with another bluff is a risky play. My bluff cost nothing more than a booted dude at home, whereas theirs could result in a shootout. This is where information like cards in discard (both individual cards and draw structure), number of cards in hand, game state, and any previous shootouts all factor into how you can read your opponentÕs choices.
Cards in Hand
Speaking of cards in hand, this is one of the most necessary tools for bluffing. If you look at all the reasons above on why a solo draw dude plunges headlong into an army of studs, most of those reasons require specific cards in hand. In fact, without any cards in hand, most bluffing options are removed. If you have cards in hand you wish to eventually play (such as a deed or costly dude), then keeping them in hand until the absolute last minute is generally the best play. As noted above, having no cards in hand means your opponent can cheat to their hearts content (assuming no on-the-table cheatin punishment). For that reason alone, having no cards in hand is risky unless you can safely avoid shootouts for the rest of that day. Other than keeping your opponent guessing if you have cheatin’ cards in hand, cards in hand affords you bluffing options. Even if you have no intentions of bluffing, it’s always good to keep your opponent guessing! In some cases where your opponent is being very conservative, they may pass up more opportune plays in fear of what you may have.
Depending on what cards show up in your discard pile, you may be afforded opportunities for bluffing. If my first lowball reveals a 4 or 5 of a kind, I may be able to act as if I’m very confident in early shootouts, even if I actually have a loose draw structure. Normally in a loose deck I may need to first build up attachments, or if I’m playing a slide deck I may want to avoid shootouts all together. But having a few turns where the opponent hasn’t caught on yet might let me position myself as if I’m ready and willing to shoot out of the gate.
In a different example, say that I’m only playing one or two of a card like Takin Ya With Me, or only 1-2 cheatin punishment actions. If those cards show up relatively early in the game in lowball, I may attempt to act like there are more in the deck and they are in my hand. You can get away with some serious bullying of dudes if they suspect a Takin Ya With Me, or you might scare your opponent into not cheating at all costs, in these two cases. That is, at least until your opponent has gotten to see more of your discard, or gotten to experience a shootout or two against you.
You can also bluff with the dudes you choose in your starting gang. Shooter decks tend to start the most studs with lowest cost and upkeep possible, while packing enough influence to not lose early to a flood of control points. For slide decks that don’t want to immediately appear as slide, or decks that want to feign aggressiveness, you don’t necessarily want to start only dudes optimized for slide. For instance, if I see Androcles Brocklehurst in my opponents starting posse, I immediately assume they are playing slide, and will be absolutely shocked by any other possibility. Some factions, such as the Anarchists, can be sneakier about their slide status. DoomdogÕs runner-up deck from Worlds 2018 serves as a good example. The starting posse indicates a potential slide deck:
– no starting studs or upkeep
– reasonable amount of starting ghost rock
-starting a deed that slide decks can immediately utilize.
This deck can quickly generate studs, but upon first glance an opponent could easily mistake this deck (which is nowhere near slide status, and can shoot very well) as weaker than it is.
Here is one of my decks that at first looks like a shooty deck, while actually intending to generate lots of ghost rock and pump out deeds. It takes the exact opposite optics of DoomdogÕs deck, and with the presence of Jen, looks like it could be a typical shooty gadget deck from the Gadgetorium. In fact, it has a very loose structure dependent upon building up lots of ghost rock, and at least one Force Field and other supporting gadgets. If I got into an early shootout, that usually meant bad things for me, as I needed to first build up lots of economy and gadgets. I would have much more strongly preferred to start Arnold Stewart in place of Jen, as that removes my upkeep and allows me to fish for the out of town deeds that are crucial to the deckÕs economy. I explicitly put Jen in there instead to appear more shooting capable than I was. It was my hope that this would buy me some time for my deeds to go uncontested. I will say that in a majority of my games this bluff paid big dividends, as most of my opponents gave me a much wider berth than they could have, leaving my deeds uncontested. A 2-bullet stud Jen with Decimator Array is normally a potentially scary thing with any decent draw structure.
Countless Other Bluffs
Depending on the game state, cards, and deck archetypes used, there can be a variety of bluffing opportunities that can arise during a game. I tried to cover the main areas where bluffing is most common, but what did I miss? I’d love to hear on the Pinebox Forums about your favorite bluffing stories. Until then, I look forward to slingin’ lead with those of you fortunate enough to make it to Tombstone this year. And, of course, I can’t pass up the opportunity to play at least one game of poker (with plenty of bluffing) in the town made famous by Doc Holliday and company – hope to see you there!