Advantages of Semi-Bluff
 
First, the semi-bluff tends to make your opponent play incorrectly according to the Fundamental Theorem of online poker games. When you semi-bluff, you presumably do not have the best hand. If your opponent could see your cards, his correct play would be to raise. However, since you are representing something with your semi-bluff, opponents will nearly always only call. Sometimes they will make the worst play of all by folding the best hand.

Second, when the hand with which you are semi-bluffing is 111 fact the best hand at the moment, by betting you are not making the mistake of giving worse hands free cards. As we saw in the previous page, it is critical to bet the best hand with more cards to come in order to avoid giving people a free card. Not only will a worse hand usually fold, which is fine, especially if the opponent is getting proper odds to call, but a better hand might fold. If the better hand calls, which is more likely, you still have the chance of improving to the best hand. If, instead of betting, you check and a better hand bets, your hand probably justifies a call. So you have gained nothing by checking. You do not get yourself a free card. Hence, you are more likely to semi-bluff in first position than in last, where you have the option of giving yourself a free card.

A third advantage of the semi-bluff is that, used correctly, it adds an enormous amount of deceptiveness to your games.
For example, suppose in seven card stud you started with:


on fourth street an opponent with


bets. You have cought the


giving you QJ showing. This is a good spot for a semi-bluff raise even if you are almost certain your opponent will call you. Why? Well, notice what happens when you catch certain cards on fifth street. If you catch a card such as the 9 or for that matter any card that looks as if it's given you a straight or a flush, your opponent will very possibly fold, if not a better hand, certainly a hand that was justified in calling against a measly pair of 7s. Suppose you catch a jack or a queen, making a pair on board. Now your opponent almost has to fold because of the strength you showed by your earlier raise. However, if he in fact has two kings, he is making a mistake folding against two smaller pair. Finally, notice what happens if you catch the one card that will make you root for a call, namely a 7, which gives you three-of-a-kind. Because of your previous bet, that 7 will look completely harmless, as though it didn't help your hand one bit. Now when you bet, your opponent will keep coming just as you want him to. In sum, your semi-bluff raise on fourth street has made subsequent cards that help you only moderately look very dangerous, while it has made cards that give you a big hand look insignificant.

This last point is an additional benefit of the semi-bluff in stud games but especially in hold 'em. When you do hit the card that makes your hand, your opponent will often misread it because of your bet on the previous round (except in the cases where you were straightforwardly betting on the come with a flush or a straight draw). Thus, you may win a larger pot than you would have otherwise expected.

Both the semi-bluff and betting a marginal hand rather than risking giving a worse hand a free card are cases of the general precept that it is usually better to be betting than calling. By betting as a semi-bluff you have a chance of winning the pot right there, something you are usually hoping to do, and you have shown greater strength than you really have. If you catch scary-looking cards after you have been called, you are still likely to win pots you wouldn't otherwise have won. When you bet now, your opponent is quite likely to fold. On the other hand, when you don't improve and are caught in a semi-bluff, that can be of value as an advertisement for the future.

A final advantage of the semi-bluff, is that you can sometimes use it to get a free card. Let's say an opponent in hold 'em bets on the flop, and you raise with a four-flush. If that player calls your raise, it is likely he will check to you on fourth street. If you haven't made the flush, you have the option of checking behind him for a free card.
 
Pairs Don't Always Work Out

 
Of course, middle pairs don't at ways work out, even when they seem to hit the flop well. In a recent hand, I was dealt pocket 5s on the button, raised when everyone folded to me, and one of the blinds called. I liked the flop of 4? 6? 6?. My single opponent checked, I bet he called.

I didn't like the turn of Q? as much as I'd liked the flop. But when he checked again, I bet again. And he called again.
Even after the river card of 4?, I still thought the chances were good that I was best. Until he bet out that is. I folded.
I thought it was very, very unlikely he was bluffing when he bet out. He'd already passed two opportunities to bet scare cards. So I was confident that I was beat when he finally bet the river. He did show his hand: K? Q?
 
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