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Using the Semi-Bluff

By Gary Steele

It is very difficult to win money playing poker without learning how to bluff. Bluffing is all about taking control of the betting. You have to force your opponent to make a decision about whether his or her hand is good enough to beat what you are pretending to have in your hand. You do not want to get fingered as a player who bluffs at every pot though. Tight players will flock to you when they figure this out. If I am winning two out of three hands when I bluff, I know I am picking my spots correctly and everyone still respects my reputation as a tight player. With experience you will learn to expect to win when you bluff, where most rookie poker players expect to lose.

Unless the perfect situation occurs (sitting in last position with a nice pot against very few players) I normally will not bluff with complete rags. However, a semi-bluff is good in almost any situation. A semi-bluff is a bet or raise with a hand that still needs help to become the best hand at the table. The most common scenario might be an open ended straight draw or four to a flush. With a semi-bluff you take control of the betting, often giving yourself free cards later in the hand if someone does call, and you deny opponents a look at a free card. Of course, you would not mind at all if everyone folded to this bet either. Any time you can take a pot when another player folds a better hand you are happy with the bluff.

Here are three scenarios where you make a semi-bluff at a $1/$2 no-limit table. In each you are holding a Ten and King of spades in your hand and the Flop is Ace of Spades, Eight of Spades and Ten of Hearts. In this case you have 14 outs (two 10’s, three Kings, and nine Spades) giving you a pretty good chance of drawing something useful. At the moment you probably do not have the best hand since players at a $1/$2 table rarely fold an Ace.

Your hand: 10s, Ks
Flop: As, 8s, 10h

Scenario One:

You are in first position with five other players in the hand. You are hoping to make everyone drop and take the pot right here, but if someone calls your bet, you have a chance to really improve your hand. You have to bet approximately half of the size of the current pot in this case to take away the odds from the other players. This should be enough to scare anyone with an Ace and a low kicker or a straight draw out of the pot. In first position you are not going to force out an Ace with a good kicker or two pair though, so you have to be very cautious if you do not get a helpful card on the Turn. Knowing your opponent’s tendencies will help you make the correct decision on the Turn.

Scenario Two:

You are in last position with two other players. The first to act bet the minimum, $1. With a small bet like this you have to take control for your bluff to work. I have found the player who made the small bet is probably drawing as well and hoping his small bet will convince the other players not to raise. Once again you want to raise at least half of the current pot (including your opponent’s bets – this money is in the current pot). By making this raise you take away the pot odds if your opponents are on a draw and take control of the betting. On the Turn, if you do not get your card, you can simply check and see the River. If you do get a Spade, 10, or King, your opponents will not know how helpful the card was since you bet when you did not have it. Of course, if everyone folds, you won’t mind either.

Scenario Three:

You are in last position with five other players. Everyone checks to you and you make a semi-bluff of half the current pot. The player to your left makes a big raise taking away your pot odds. At this point it is time for you to fold. The player in seat one probably has already made his hand and was slow playing. He would not raise a decent bet like yours otherwise (unless you are known as a bluffing-machine).

The semi-bluff will make you money in the long run and it is a much safer bet than a stone-cold bluff (where you have no hand at all). If you develop your reputation as a tight player this bluff will work on a regular basis and will result in some very nice pots when you do get the cards you need.

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