Semi Bluffing in Poker

written by: John

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Semi bluffing in poker is pretty much as the name suggests. It's a bluff, but only a partial one. How does that work?

Well, you know that a bluff is a bet made in attempt to take the pot down since your hand in unlikely to be good at showdown. You don't have a hand at all - just air. A semi bluff is the same idea with the exception that your hand has equity in the pot or "outs" to improve. So, with a semi bluff you'll either take down the pot immediately as a bluff, or you hand can improve later on and take the pot for value. Just think of a semi bluff as a bluff with insurance.

Semi Bluff Example

Say you have AK of hearts in the hole. The blinds in the sit n go you're playing is 100/200 and you have a 6k stack. You raise preflop from middle position to 500 and it folds to the big blind who calls. The pot now has 1100 in it. The flop is 8h-Qh-2c and the big blind checks to you. What do you do?

I would bet as a semi bluff because this is an excellent spot to do so. Here are the reasons why:

You have the initiative in the hand. In other words, you were the preflop aggressor. So you can continue the aggression with a continuation bet which is a standard play in a situation such as this. (This is a good flop to do it on as well.) By semi bluffing (or c-betting, same thing in this situation) here, there is a good chance you will just take this 1100 pot down. This is great for you since the pot is already equivalent to 20% of your overall stack - a hefty boost.

You have equity in this hand. There are many cards or outs that could improve your hand if you are called. You have two over cards (an ace and a king) and 9 flush cards. 

Those reasons are good enough for me. In this particular example, I would bet 650 or so into the 1100 pot and expect to take it down a majority of the time. If called, I would just reevaluate the turn and go from there.

Ideal Hands to Semi Bluff

Not all hands are ideal for semi bluffs. The idea is to have as much equity in the pot as possible in case you're called. So that means you're going to want to have good drawing hands such as:

Flush Draws: It is suggested that you are drawing to the nuts and have 4 cards to the flush. Semi bluffing to backdoor draws is a bit of a stretch unless you have outs to other draws. 

Open-ended Straight Draws: An open-ended straight draw is holding a hand like 56 on a flop of 3-4-x. Not only will a 2 give you a straight, but a 7 as well.

Combo Draws: The best kind of hand to semi bluff is going to be a combo draw. These hands are drawing to a combination of two or more hands such as straights, flushes and/or over cards. In most cases, you'll have 12 or more outs to hit your hand which is huge.

Not so Ideal Hands to Semi Bluff

Gut-shot Straight Draws: Gut-shot straight draws only have 4 outs to improve which means there is so little chance that you'll connect. It's just not worth it. I'd only semi bluff a gut-shot draw if I had some other sort of draw or over cards to go along with it.

Benefits of Semi Bluffing

Disguise Your Hand

An added benefit of semi bluffing is that it disguises your hand. Using the example above, by betting that flop, your opponent doesn't know if you have air, a queen, some sort of small pair or a draw. So if they do call your semi bluff and you hit your draw on a later street, it's very possible that you'll be able to continue getting value for your hand.

Build a Pot

Although building a large pot with an unmade hand is something that you ought to avoid for the most part, it's really not that bad if you have a huge draw. Once again using the example above, you'll have 15 outs which gives you a 30% chance to hit on the turn and 50% to hit by the river. This is a big enough draw where you can feel pretty comfortable getting your stack in on the flop, much less build the pot by semi bluffing the flop and/or the turn.

See a Free River Card

Often times if you semi-bluff the flop (in position) and are called, many times this will lead to your opponent checking the turn. So if you hit your hand on the turn, you can continue to bet for value and if not, you can go ahead and check back the turn to see a free river card.

Other Thoughts on Semi-Bluffing

As it holds true with bluffing, you want to consider things like your opponents playing styles and your image before semi bluffing. This is because although you have outs, you don't mind a fold. In fact, you prefer it. Your outs are just more or less insurance in case you're called. So with that said, you still want to avoid semi-bluffing players who are calling stations. Depending on your hand and how many outs you have, it might be better to just take a free turn card and reevaluate verses these players. Additionally, if you have been loose, a semi bluff is unlikely to work whereas if you have been tight, your semi bluff will be given more credit as a real hand as opposed to a bluff.

Summary of Semi Bluffing in Poker

Semi bluffing is an extremely profitable tactic in poker. Quite honestly, it's one of my favorites because if employed correctly, you will win more money than you will lose. However, like any other poker strategy or tactic, semi bluffing can quickly become a losing proposition if you aren't aware of your opponents, your image or if you use this strategy in less than ideal situations.