The semi bluff

Bluffing is one of the most sensitive issues in poker. The reason why it’s so sensitive is that while it’s wildly popular, few players can get it right. Blind bluffs are among the most frequent beginner mistakes, and for most players they remain a problematic issue well after they can no longer be considered rookies.

There are two basic types of bluffs: the pure bluff and the semi-bluff. The pure bluff is about players firing out a bet in the hope of making all their opponents fold. A pure bluff only offers the bluffer one way to win the pot: by making everyone fold.

A semi-bluff on the other hand, offers the protagonist two ways to win. He can either take the pot down by making the other players fold, or he can hit his draw to take down a huge pot if his bluff gets called.

Here’s an example of a semi-bluff: you hit a four–card flush on the flop, and you bet into your opponents, attempting to push them out of the pot. If they fold, your semi-bluff is successful. If they call, you still stand a pretty good chance to hit your flush on the turn or the river and to make the best hand, in which case your opponents will lose a great deal of money.

Another example of a semi-bluff is the light three bet. You re-raise your opponent preflop to make him fold. You still stand a chance to hit a hand on the flop though.

Never forget one thing about the semi-bluff: even if it offers you two ways to win, your primary objective should be to make your opponents fold. If you fail in achieving your primary objective, you can proceed and attempt to fulfill your secondary task.

What can you do to optimize your semi-bluffing success rate? First of all: the no.1 rule of successful poker (position, position, position) applies to the semi-bluff as well. You’ll have a much better success rate if you attempt your semi bluff from late position. In addition to seeing the moves your opponents make before you act, you’ll be able to earn a free card on the river. That’s because if you make a raise on the flop and your opponent calls you, he’ll be tempted to just check to you on the turn, thus offering you the possibility to go to the river without paying anything. If you do make you hand on the turn or river, this strategy is likely to maximize your winnings because it plants the seeds of doubt into your opponent’s mind.

If you’re out of position, you’ll get yourself into a whole array of complications. You have no information on your opponents, which means you basically have to fire your bluff out blindly. The chances that you’ll find a caller are much bigger under these circumstances. To top it all off, once you find a caller, you’ll find yourself in a precarious position again, being the first to act on the next street. Once again in the dark about your opponent’s hand, you’ll have to decide whether to give your semi bluff up or to continue pushing money into the pot.

Another thing that you may want to pay attention to when you’re preparing a semi bluff is the size of your stack. Your semi-bluff is always more intimidating if there are plenty more chips left in your stack to follow it up with another big bet if needed. If you go all-in on your semi-bluff, your opponent can call you without feeling threatened by another large bet down the line.

Which are the most frequently exploited semi-bluff situations? The 4-card flush on the flop example I’ve given you above is probably the most popular. Most people automatically semi-bluff in such situations. Another situation which is almost as popular is the open ended straight draw on the flop. Both of these situations are easy to spot though, so don’t be surprised if your semi-bluff misfires more often than you expect.
Gutshot or double gutshot straights draws make for excellent semi-bluffing opportunities with a much better success rate than the above named two situations. Make sure you don’t abuse semi-bluffing and that you apply your semi-bluffs with the right frequency.

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