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
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
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
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.
Always Work Out
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?