THE SEMI BLUFF

Remember what was said toward the end of this topic about betting when you are afraid you do not have the best hand. The more ways you have of improving to become the best hand, the more reason you have to bet. The semi-bluff is an extension of this concept. From another point of view, it is an extension of theories of bluffing, which are discussed in pages Eighteen and Nineteen. We define the semi-bluff this way: A semi-bluff is a bet with a hand which, if called, does not figure to be the best hand at the moment but has a reasonable chance of outdrawing those hands that initially called it.

Obviously, then, a semi-bluff cannot occur unless there are more cards to come. When you bet as a semi-bluff, you are rooting to win right there just as you are when you make a pure bluff. However, in contrast to a pure bluff, you still retain a chance of outdrawing your opponent if you are called. Even when you bet with a legitimate hand, you are generally rooting to win instantly, but when you semi-bluff, you especially want your opponents to fold because one of them may be folding the best hand. This is how it’s done in any Australian online casino 61.

The semi-bluff is one of the least understood tools of poker, yet it is a very valuable and potent weapon. All professional players use it, and it may be used in any games. It may be a bet, a raise, or even a check-raise. Essentially you are representing a bigger hand than you actually have; however, in contrast to a pure bluff, your hand must have some chances of improving to the best hand.

Betting on the come is the most commonly used form of the semi-bluff. When you raise with four-flush in draw poker, you are using a semi-bluff. You are hoping your opponents fold right there, but if they don’t, you may make your flush and beat them anyway. Raising with in draw lowball is a semi-bluff; you’d like your opponents to fold but don’t mind a call that much since you have a good chance of drawing the best low hand. In hold ’em, betting after the flop with the third pair and an ace kicker or the third pair and an inside straight draw would be a semi-bluff: In this case, you want very much to win instantly, but if you are called you still have a chance of outdrawing your opponent.

You make a semi-bluff raise, representing a straight. You’d like to win right there, but you have a good chance of making the straight if you are called. Furthermore, you’ll almost certainly get a free card on the next round when the king checks to you. Also if you don’t make the straight, you may possibly win with two pair or three 4s.

Semi-bluffs can be much more varied and often more complex than simply betting on the come. They can range from almost pure bluffs, when your hand has little chance of catching up if your bet is called, to a bet with a hand that may possibly be the best hand. In the first case, you have to think you have almost as good a chance of getting away with the bluff as you would with a pure bluff, taking into account the pot odds you’re getting. In the second case, when you may in fact have the best hand, it is essential to bet to keep from giving a worse hand a free card. Betting is particularly important when you’re in first position, in which case you should apply the following rule: If your hand is worth a call or almost worth a call when someone else bets, it is better to bet yourself, especially when you have little fear of a raise and when there is some chance you will win right there by making your opponent fold.

We’ll look at two examples of semi-bluffs from seven-card stud. In the first, you are making a semi-bluff bet because your hand is worth a call if you checked and your opponent bet.

Right off the bat a queen raises you. You know the raiser is not a very imaginative player, but he may be raising with a three-flush or something like a pair of 7s in the hole. You call.

On the next card, you catch an ace, giving you a pair of 8s and an ace, king kicker. Your opponent catches a small card. You are high on board, and now it is very important to bet because with a pair and two over cards your hand is certainly worth a call if you check and your opponent bets. Furthermore, you have little reason to think your opponent will raise because he now fears that you have made a pair of aces or even aces up. In fact, your opponent may fear what you are representing so much that he might fold the best hand.

The added equity of possibly winning, right there when your opponent fold is the primary reason to semi-bluff. If you had checked your pair of 8s with an ace, king and called your opponent’s bet, you would have a reasonable chance of making kings up, aces up, or three 8s to beat his queens or queens up. By betting out instead of checking and calling, you add to these chances the possibility of winning right away. This possibility gives a semi-bluff greater mathematical expectation than checking and calling since it adds another way to win besides winding up with the best hand in the showdown.

If you know there is no chance that your opponent will fold a pair of queens, the semi-bluff becomes more debatable, for by definition a semi-bluff is a bet where there is some chance your opponent will fold a hand he should have played. However, since you would call your opponent’s bet anyway, betting yourself still has certain advantages. Your bet suggests more strength than you actually have. Suppose you catch something like two running 6s. When you bet with nothing but 8s and 6s, your opponent will probably fold a hand that he shouldn’t have if he knew what you had. Even when a semi-bluff has no chance of making an opponent fold immediately, it may lead him to fold later when your board appears to improve to a better hand than you actually have. This situation comes up only in stud games, both high and low, where your opponent can see you “improve.” It does not occur as much in hold ’em, where everyone shares a common board, nor, of course, in draw.

In the second semi-bluff, example from seven-card stud, you are more of underdog if your opponent has the hand he is representing.

Your opponent raised on the first round, and you called with a three-flush. Now when you pair fours in sight, you must bet even though you have only a small pair with no over card and your chances of making a spade flush are about 9-to-1 against. Your opponent will fold without a pair, which is to your advantage, and he may fold a higher pair, thinking you’ve made three 4s, which would be great. On the other hand, if he calls your bet, you still have several ways of beating him.
First, the semi-bluff tends to make your opponent play incorrectly according to the Fundamental Theorem of Online Poker Games. When you semi-bluff, you presumably do not have the best hand, if your opponent could see your cards, his correct play would be to raise. However, since you are representing something with your semi-bluff, opponents will nearly always only call. Sometimes they will make the worst play of all by folding the best hand.

Second, when the hand with which you are semi-bluffing is 111 facts the best hand at the moment, by betting you are not making the mistake the mistake of giving worse hands free cards. As we saw in the previous page, it is critical to bet the best hand with more cards to come in order to avoid giving people a free card. Not only will a worse hand usually fold, which is fine, especially if the opponent is getting proper odds to call, but a better hand might fold. If the better hand calls, which is more likely, you still have the chance of improving to the best hand. If, instead of betting, you check and a better hand bets, your hand probably justifies a call. So you have gained nothing by checking. You do not get yourself a free card. Hence, you are more likely to semi-bluff in first position than in last, where you have the option of giving yourself a free card.

A third advantage of the semi-bluff is that, used correctly, it adds an enormous amount of deceptiveness to your games.

This is a good spot for a semi-bluff raise even if you are almost certain your opponent will call you. Why? Well, notice what happens when you catch certain cards on Fifth Street. If you catch a card such as the or for that matter any card that looks as if it’s given you a straight or a flush, your opponent will very possibly fold, if not a better hand, certainly a hand that was justified in calling against a measly pair of 7s. Suppose you catch a jack or a queen, making a pair on board. Now your opponent almost has to fold because of the strength you showed by your earlier raise. However, if he in fact has two kings, he is making a mistake folding against two smaller pair. Finally, notice what happens if you catch the one card that will make you root for a call, namely a 7, which gives you three-of-a-kind. Because of your previous bet, that 7 will look completely harmless, as though it didn’t help your hand one bit. Now when you bet, your opponent will keep coming just as you want him to. In sum, your semi-bluff raise on Fourth Street has made subsequent cards that help you only moderately look very dangerous, while it has made cards that give you a big hand look insignificant.

This last point is an additional benefit of the semi-bluff in stud games but especially in hold ’em. When you do hit the card that makes your hand, your opponent will often misread it because of your bet on the previous round (except in the cases where you were straightforwardly betting on the come with a flush or a straight draw). Thus, you may win a larger pot than you would have otherwise expected.

Both the semi-bluff and betting a marginal hand rather than risking giving a worse hand a free card are cases of the general precept that it is usually better to be betting than calling. By betting as a semi-bluff you have a chance of winning the pot right there, something you are usually hoping to do, and you have shown greater strength than you really have. If you catch scary-looking cards after you have been called, you are still likely to win pots you wouldn’t otherwise have won. When you bet now, your opponent is quite likely to fold. On the other hand, when you don’t improve and are caught in a semi-bluff, which can be of value as an advertisement for the future.

A final advantage of the semi-bluff is that you can sometimes use it to get a free card. Let’s say an opponent in hold ’em bets on the flop, and you raise with four-flush. If that player calls your raise, it is likely he will check to you on fourth street. If you haven’t made the flush, you have the option of checking behind him for a free card.

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
Writer, Blogger and tech journalist