Semi-bluff as “a bet with a hand which, if called, does not figure to be the best hand at the moment, but has a reasonable chance of outdrawing those hands that initially called it.” Notice that when you are semi-bluffing, there are two ways that you might win the pot. First, no one may call and you will win the pot immediately. Second, if you do get callers, you still may improve to the best hand. It is the combination of these two possibilities that makes this class of plays profitable, and as we shall see, semi-bluffing plays a crucial role in any winning hold ’em strategy. Also notice that the semi-bluff necessarily means that more cards are to come.
Obvious examples of semi-bluff situations in hold ’em are when you have flopped an inside straight draw, or second or third pair with an overcard kicker. In these examples, you would prefer that all of your opponents fold. However, if you are called, you still have a chance to win if the right card comes on the turn. A specific example of a semi-bluff situation is when you hold 10s9s against not too many opponents, and the flop comes 7d 6c 2s
In this case, an 8 will give you the absolute nuts, and a 9 or a 10 will give you an overpair (to the flop), which also may be good enough to win. You might not want to semi-bluff when you are in last position. That is because you may be check-raised, and instead of seeing the next card for free, it will cost you two bets. Thus, the factor that determines whether to bet in this situation is often how frequently you think you will be check-raised. This is partially dependent on the opponents you are up against. Keep in mind that some players constantly will go for a check-raise, while other players seldom will make this play. On the other hand, your bet in this spot may buy you a free card on a succeeding round, which is another reason to semi-bluff.
As usual, experience and knowledge of how your opponents play will help you make the right decisions in these situations. Here is another example of a correct semi-bluff. You hold Ac3c and the flop is Qd 3c 2s
Notice that you have middle pair with the very best kicker, plus “back-door” flush potential. (Backdoor flush potential means that you will make a flush if both the fourth- and fifth-street cards are of your suit.) The correct play is to bet if you think you have any chance of winning the pot immediately. If you get called, you still can win if an A or 3 comes on the turn. Against poor players who call too much, semi-bluffing may not be correct in this situation (although a bet might still be worth it, since you may have the best hand and will often be called with worse hands).
Following are some other examples of correct semi-bluffs. First, let’s look at a four-flush or open-end straight draw – especially with a pair – with one card to come. Suppose you hold 10s9s and the board is Qs 4h 7s 9c
Notice that you have a pair plus a flush draw. This means that there are 14 cards left in the deck (out of the remaining 46 unseen cards) that will give you a strong hand. (If you had an open-end straight draw and a pair, there would be 13 cards left in the deck that would give you a strong hand.) This is usually enough potential, along with the possibility that all of your opponents may fold, to make a bet the correct move. If you do not have a pair – that is, you have only a straight draw (8 outs) or a flush draw (9 outs) – your hand is not as good. However, this does not mean that it is correct to check (and then call if there is a bet), but rather that you should bet only if you think there is a decent chance that all of your opponents will fold.
Let’s look at the small pair with an overcard kicker. Suppose you have Ac2c the flop is Qh 5d 2s and there are six people in the pot. It is still correct to bet against typical players. However, it would be different if you had Ac7c and the flop came Js 8d 7h
There is a good chance that other players would like this flop, as straight draws are now likely. Another example would be if the flop comes with two suited cards. Once again be less inclined to semi- bluff, especially against a lot of opponents, since a flush draw will surely play against you. Now suppose the flop is Qc 6h 3d and you hold 7d 5c (giving you a “gut shot”) against many opponents. This is another time when semi-bluffing is usually correct.
However, if the flop comes 10c 6h 3d and you hold the same 7d5c, it is probably best not to semi-bluff, because with a ten-high flop, it is easy for two overcards to call. However, with a queen-high flop, an opponent must have precisely AK to have two overcards. That is, in the second example, it is much harder to win by betting, thus making a semi-bluff incorrect.
Here is a good rule to follow: If your hand is worth a call or even almost worth a call if you check, then it is better to bet if there is some chance that you can win the pot right there. Notice that we are not mentioning the fear of a raise on the flop, as the threat of a raise does not automatically stop us from semi-bluffing. This is because in today’s structure, the bet on the flop is often very small when compared with the size of the pot. Of course, if you think there is a good possibility of being raised, then this is another matter. The criterion of having some chance of winning the pot immediately is diminished, and it would have been incorrect to semi-bluff to begin with.
Advantages Of Semi-Bluffing :
1. When you do make your hand, your opponent often will misread it. Suppose in the gut-shot draw example, you have 7d5c and the flop is Qc 6h 3d Now a 4 comes on the next card. Who would dream that you have made a straight? If it turns out that you happen to be up against another strong hand, such as a set of sixes, you might get almost unlimited action.
2. It keeps your opponents guessing. If you never bluff, you are simply giving away too much information. Players in this category are referred to as “weak tight.” They are easy to make money against since you virtually always know exactly where they are, but they have a great deal of trouble figuring out what your hand is. Semi-bluffing is a good way to mix up your play so you can’t be “read as easily.
3. You may get a free card on the next round. This is especially true against timid players who are afraid to bet into anyone who has shown strength. (Keep in mind however that if you do take a free card you may be giving up your chance to bluff later, or you may get bluffed out ‘yourself by encouraging someone else to bluff on the end.)
One last situation that we would like to address is how to play two overcards on the flop. Overcards frequently should be bet, especially if you have back-door flush potential, unless you think a reasonable chance exists that if you catch your card, you still won’t win. Thus if a straight-type flop hits, or a flop with two suited cards, you would be less inclined to bet, especially against many opponents. However, if two suited cards flop and you have one of that suit and it is an ace or a king, betting is often right provided that you are against a small number of opponents. The same thing can be said when you have two suited high cards and one of those suits flop, even if the other two are another suit. If you do bet two overcards and are raised, the question now is whether you should call. The answer, again, depends on what you think your chance of: winning is if one of your overcards hits and on the pot odds you are getting. This is another spot where good judgment, experience, and knowledge of your opponent can help in determining your decision.
If someone else bets on the flop, is it correct to call with two overcards? This also relates to your judgment concerning your chance of winning if one of your overcards hits and to your pot odds. Look at the texture of the flop. Specifically, be more inclined to call with a flop like 9c 6s 2d than with a flop like 8c 7s 2d
This concept does not really come under the heading of semi-bluff, but we include it here since we are talking about how to play two overcards on the flop.
Notice that with the second flop, you are more likely to be against two pair, as the typical player will enter a pot more often with a hand like 87s than with a hand like 96s
And if you do decide that your hand (two overcards) is worth playing (usually because of the chance that you will improve, plus the chance that you have the best hand), you should consider raising rather than calling. If nothing else, this play may get you a free card – a subject that is covered in the next chapter. Finally, if small cards flop, be more inclined to call with KQ than with AK. This is because many more people play hands like Ax than Kx.
Here’s an example. Before the flop two players limp in, you raise, and one of the blinds calls. The flop is 10c 7d 4h
You should be more inclined to call with KQ than with AK. Now if you get lucky and catch your pair, you are less likely to be against two pairs.