Poker Basics

   The Mathematics of Poker

   Poker Strategies

   Poker Game Cases

   Poker Vocabulary

   Online Poker



Betting on the come is the most commonly used form of the semi-bluff. When you raise with a 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 folds 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.