How to Semi Bluff

by trikkur

Unlike a regular bluff where your only chance of winning the pot comes from making your opponents fold, semi bluffing gives players two routes to win the pot. The first way is just the same as a regular bluff, making your opponents fold. The second is by winning the hand at showdown if your hand improves. This is because a semi bluff is when your hand still has drawing value, however you know you are currently behind the opponent’s hand. You should first determine if it is a good spot to bluff in to maximized fold equity and if called, you will still have outs to improve your hand. When you start widening your range and playing more hands, similar to my Trikkur 10 LAG video, you have to mix more semi-bluffs into your game.

How to Semi Bluff Your Opponent

Before executing a semi bluff, you must consider the same factor involved in every play at the online poker tables – your position. You will find a semi bluff to be more effective when made in position against your opponent. You have the advantage of seeing how your opponent will act first which will give you significant information to make your decision on the play. If your opponent bets into you, then you may just have enough expressed odds to make the call +EV. An all-in semi-bluff can be strong in this instance, but it risks a lot.

Semi Bluffing Face

Knowing when to semi bluff is a necessary skill. Photo by Anthony Topper

When you are out of position, a semi-bluff is much riskier because you have to risk more of your stack. If you lead out as a semi-bluff and it gets called; the turn is going to be difficult to play. Your opponent could definitely have a good hand and not have to raise the flop because he is in position. This leaves you in the tricky spot of firing a 2nd barrel into an unknown hand range or going for a check/raise all in. A turn check/raise all-in will give off massive signs of strength and can carry a lot of fold equity. I will do this with massive draws on the turn like a flush draw + pair, flush draw + straight draw, or flush draw + 2 over cards.

Spotting a Semi Bluff

Most poker players will use the semi bluff when they are chasing a straight or flush draw. These are the most common ways for a player to have a large amount of outs (8 for an open-ended straight and 9 for a flush draw). If the board is draw heavy with a possible straight or flush draw and you are facing an unusual bet/raise from an opponent; you can be fairly sure they are semi bluffing.

This is a difficult spot to decide on the proper course of action. If you just call the semi bluff; your opponent gets to see a new card and possibly make a better hand than yourself. You will also rarely get a missed draw to call a value bet; so if they miss their draw, don’t expect to win another bet from them. If a call isn’t correct because they can only win more and lose nothing else and a fold isn’t correct because we think are hand is currently ahead of their semi-bluff; then what option are we left with that can be correct?

Raising all-in against a semi-bluff is normally considered the best play with almost any made hand. This forces your opponent to call with the rest of their chips instead of pushing all-in themselves. This means we get to maximize our own fold equity and force our opponents to make the call hopefully without proper expressed or implied odds. This play has a large risk associated with it though. If your read on the hand is wrong and the opponent is not semi bluffing then you have just risked your entire stack to find out. This means you must be practiced in the art of using and spotting semi-bluffs before attempting this play.

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This article was submitted by my friend Marcus. I made some edits, but he did the most work.