The Semi Bluff
The semi-bluff in poker is one of my favourite tactics in both NLH cash games and tournaments. The semi-bluff is what separates the pros and winning players from the fish at the table. You can semi bluff with so many different hands and in so many different situations that it will make you a completely different player in the long run.
Let’s get started, what is a semi bluff? A semi-bluff is a bluff made when a player is behind and makes a raise, but does so knowing that he has some equity or “outs” in the pot. In contrast to a pure bluff (when the player knows he has 0% chance of winning) a semi-bluff still gives you a chance of winning the pot even if you get called. That’s why it’s called a semi-bluff, because you’re only half-bluffing.
Advantages of Semi-Bluffing
You can semi bluff profitably in so many different situations in poker that if you’re not doing it adding it to your game than you’re probably a poor player. Realistically, the semi bluff has numerous advantages both in winning chips in the short run and building your table image in the long run. I semi-bluff all the time at weak USA online poker sites like Carbon, Bodog and formerly Sportsbook.
Firstly, a semi-bluff gives you the obvious ability to win pots when you’re behind. Just like a pure bluff, if you bet out on the flop K-J-6 with pocket seven’s than there’s every chance that your opponent will fold.
Secondly, semi bluffing allows you to play a wider variety of hands and give you initiative in the pot. A lot of poker is all about “initiative”, putting your opponent under pressure and forcing him to play out of position. The more hands that you raise, draw or slow-play with, the higher the chance that you’ll make your opponent uncomfortable. For example, if you’re in BB and the player in SB checks, than why not raise him off the pot? This is called positional play. The sheer aggression in your strategy always makes you a favourite to win the pot. Even if he calls you have position for the rest of the hand. This means if he calls, misses the flop and then decides to continuation or check the flop, you can simply re-raise him.
Finally, you can mix up your table image and hand range much better by semi bluffing different cards. Having a “balanced range” is one of the most important steps in anything above micro limit poker (well, that and multi-level thinking). By semi-bluffing a large range of your hands including straight draws, flush draws, pocket pairs, top pairs, middle pairs, bottom pairs, over cards (e.g. AJ on 7-10-4 flop) etc, you can mix up your play and make yourself more dangerous. By mixing up your play you can give yourself a weak table image (allowing you to extract maximum call value when you get a premium hand like KK) or a strong table image which allows you to bluff the others at your table more easily.
In terms of when to semi-bluff, I recommend doing so sparingly, usually best when you have at least 30% equity in the pot and position on your opponent (i.e. acting after him). The best situations to semi-bluff are when you have implied odds for hitting your straight or flush draw. I always like semi-bluffing the flop with over cards if there’s only one other opponent in the hand. The opposite of this, the inferior straight/flush draw is the worst type of hands to be semi-bluffing since they have a lot of negative implied odds.