Semi-Bluffing Strategy

The semi-bluff is a move in poker that resembles the bluff except it’s made while holding a draw. For example, a bet made by a person holding a flush draw would be considered a semi-bluff. Semi-bluffing is a powerful tool that should occupy a place in every player’s arsenal.

Semi-bluffs may be powerful, but they can also be overused. As is the case with all moves in poker, the semi-bluff must be used with discretion. It is not a tool to use willy-nilly like some kind of maniac. Now, having said that, let’s get to the good stuff.

Smart Semi-Bluffing

Remember that the primary goal in semi-bluffing is to make your opponent fold. Many times poker players get carried away with their semi-bluffs because they think “oh well, if my opponent doesn’t fold, I still have a chance to hit my draw.” That line of thought is factually correct, but that does not make it a good reason to go around making semi-bluffs at random.

Draws are called “draws” because they are not yet made hands. In most cases, draws miss and you end up having to fold your hand. So if you are going to semi-bluff, make sure you are doing so against an opponent who might actually fold. Otherwise, the only thing you are accomplishing is making it more expensive to chase your draw.

The best opponents to semi-bluff against are the same types of opponents you would attempt normal bluffs against: tight players who are looking for a reason to fold. When you make a semi-bluff, you need to have picked the right opponents and the right situation.

Power of the Semi-Bluff

Semi-bluffs have several advantages that make them such powerful moves. First of all, semi-bluffs are nice because they give you different ways to win the hand:

  • Your opponent may fold
  • If he opponent doesn’t fold, you still might hit your hand

That alone is a good reason to consider the semi-bluff against the right opponents. There’s always a chance that if your bluff doesn’t work, you will go on to improve your hand. This doesn’t give you free reign to make random semi-bluffs left and right, but it does serve as a nice backup plan.

Secondly, semi-bluffs help maintain your aggressive table image. If you are known to make the occasional semi-bluff, your opponents will have a hard time pegging you on hands. This makes it more likely that your opponents will make mistakes that result in extra money in your pocket.

Semi-bluffs are also great for disguising your hand. This is not a reason to bluff every time you have a draw, but it semi-bluffing does make it more difficult for your opponents to put you on a draw. If your opponent does happen to call your semi-bluff and you go on to improve, they will often never see it coming.

If your semi-bluff does get called, you gain the fortunate advantage that it starts building a larger pot. If your draw ends up completing, you’ll be able to make bigger bets on the turn and river thanks to the bigger pot. Once again, this is not a reason to make semi-bluffs all the time, but it is a nice little benefit just in case you have misread the opponent’s willingness to fold.

Disadvantages and Pitfalls

First of all, semi-bluffs are never guaranteed things. Occasionally semi-bluffs get called and you end up losing money because of it. In an instance where you may have gotten a chance to draw for free, you ended up making it more expensive for yourself. And the majority of the time, your draw will not complete.

Another disadvantage to semi-bluffing is that it can be tempting to make way too many semi-bluff attempts. With the knowledge that you have a backup draw waiting for you, it is easy to find reasons to semi-bluff when you really shouldn’t. You have to always remember that the primary goal of semi-bluffing is to get your opponent to fold.

When to Semi-Bluff

Semi-bluffs should be attempted when you are up against tight opponents who are quick to fold. These players like to find reasons to fold, and you should be more than willing to give them a reason to fold. By bluffing these players, you give yourself a chance to win the pot right now instead of relying on good luck to complete your draw.

It is also best to semi-bluff when you’re only up against one or two opponents. If you attempt to semi-bluff any more people than that, there’s too great a chance that at least one of them has a strong hand. That can easily result in you just paying more for your draw after they either raise you or call your bluff.

The only time I would ever consider semi-bluffing against multiple opponents is if I was at a table full of predictable calling stations, was in late position and had a decent draw. In that case, I might just throw out a small bet in order to build the pot. In fixed-limit games, you can sometimes do this and get the right pot-odds at the same time.

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