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January 22nd, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Semi-Bluffing
Author: Andy Bloch
The semi-bluff is one of the most powerful weapons in any poker player’s arsenal. If there’s a decent chance you can steal a pot by semi-bluffing, you should usually take it. But, as with any play you make at the table, the semi-bluff is always most effective when you use it at the correct time in the correct situation. Semi-bluff too much and your opponents will know when you’re on the draw; semi-bluff too little and your opponents will know to fold whenever you bet. The key to semi-bluffing is to always mix things up and never become too predictable with your betting patterns.
Let’s say that you’ve flopped the nut flush draw and are pretty certain your opponent has connected with the flop in some way, be it top pair or maybe even a set. A lot of players like to check-raise as a semi-bluff in this spot. There are a couple of problems with this play: first, if you always check-raise in this spot then your opponent will be able to put you on a draw very easily. Second, if your opponent really does have a hand, there’s no need to check-raise here because there’s no way he’s folding and there’s a good chance he’ll pay you off anyway if you hit your hand.
A better move in this spot might be not semi-bluffing and just calling instead. This way, if you hit your flush on the turn, your options are wide open – checking, calling or raising are all viable plays − and your opponent won’t be able to put you on a hand quite as easily. By not semi-bluffing, you increase your chances of winning a bigger pot when your opponent actually has a strong hand. There are players out there who’ll assume you’re not on the draw if you don’t semi-bluff, so use that to your advantage.
Now, if you don’t think that your opponent has a strong hand or your draw isn’t that strong (say a low flush draw), this is the perfect time for a semi-bluff. The semi-bluff should be used as a tool to steal pots when the opportunity arises, not as a means of building big pots.
Another good way to mix up your semi-bluffing game plan is to wait until the turn to semi-bluff rather than always doing it on the flop. This can be a dangerous play because you’ve only got one card to come on the turn and you’re not getting the same odds. But it also means that your opponent is less likely to think that you’re semi-bluffing and put you on the draw. It looks pretty strong if you call on the flop and then raise on the turn; your opponent might think you’ve flopped the nuts and throw away a pretty strong hand.
Another advantage to semi-bluffing on the turn rather than the flop is that you could pick up additional outs on the turn. Say you have a gut-shot straight draw on the flop and then pick up a flush draw on the turn. You’ve just gone from four outs to about 12, which might be worth a shot at taking down the pot right then and there. A lot of players will also have trouble putting you on the flush draw in this spot; it’s just harder to see that flush draw on the turn than it is on the flop.
Once again, the key to a good semi-bluff is picking the right spot to pull it off. Choose poorly and you could stand to lose a good portion of your stack; choose well and you could throw your opponents off balance and hit them where it hurts when you make your hand.
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