To bluff or not to bluff is the biggest question you’ll ask yourself in the great game of poker. If you bluff a great deal, you run the risk of your opponents catching on and calling your bluff. On the other hand, if you never bluff, your play can become so predictable that observant opponents will read you like a book. Is there a happy medium between these two extremes?
Fortunately, there is, and it’s called semi-bluffing. Think of it as taking a calculated risk while hedging your bet at the same time. Whether you play live or online poker (or both,) a working knowledge of semi-bluffing will go a long way to improve your poker skills. You may even be doing it without knowing this strategy’s technical name.
Take a look at our handy guide to semi-bluffing.
Bluff versus semi-bluff
Let’s start by defining the difference between a bluff and a semi-bluff. In poker, “bluff” is the technical term for a bet or raise that you make with a hand that you don’t think is the best hand at the table. The goal of a bluff is to get an opponent (that you believe has a better hand) to fold. The hallmark of a true bluff is that you have no chance of winning if you get called. In contrast, a semi-bluff is a bluff where you stand a chance to improve your hand with later cards and possibly win, even if your bluff gets called.
The benefits of semi-bluffing
In a nutshell, semi-bluffing is raising or betting with a drawing hand with decent potential to improve by the turn or the river. Suppose you’re holding the ace of diamonds and four of diamonds, and the flop produces a king of diamonds, queen of clubs and two of diamonds. This provides you with a straight draw on diamonds. Raising in this situation is a semi-bluff.
The big advantage of semi-bluffing is that it provides you with two different ways to win while playing poker online. You could hit your draw and make the best hand, or your opponent could fold to your bluff, leaving you with the pot.
Another benefit of semi-bluffing is that betting out instead of checking gives you the initiative in the hand. Additionally, semi-bluffing can help disguise your hand, as many players will expect you to check and call with a drawing hand rather than betting or raising. As a result, the element of surprise when you do hit your draw will be much greater and could translate into bigger potential wins.
Good and bad semi-bluffing hands
You can semi-bluff with any draw, but some draws are better than others. Good hands to semi-bluff with are those that can hold up well against made hands like pairs. These include strong flush draws, flush draws, open-ended straight draws and combination draws (when you have the chance to draw a flush and an open-ended straight at the same time.) Bad hands to semi-bluff are gutshot straight draws (where only one card rank can complete the straight) and weak flush or straight draws that give you only a few outs. Say you’re playing a Texas Hold’em poker game, and you have a flush draw consisting of a low card in your hand and three community cards. That’s a weak draw because you’ll lose if your opponent holds a higher card in the same suit, even if you do hit your draw.
Key semi-bluffing considerations
Will your semi-bluff succeed? Should you attempt to semi-bluff at all? Several factors will affect whether you can bluff effectively when you’re playing live poker online. Here are a few questions you can ask to inform your decision.
Is your draw obvious to your opponents?
If you’re holding the ace of spades and the flop comes with three spades, an observant opponent will easily see the strong possibility of a flush draw. As a result, they will be more likely to fold to your semi-bluff.
Are you semi-bluffing or building the pot and hoping to make your hand?
Unless your bet is big enough for your opponent to consider folding, you’re not really semi-bluffing. A small raise takes away the power of the bluff. Instead, you want to inflate the pot so you can win even bigger if you make your hand.
Are you playing against a calling station?
A calling station is a player who never folds once they’re involved in a pot. If they don’t fold, you’ll have to hit your draw to win. Avoid semi-bluffing against opponents such as these.
What is your position at the table?
Position is always key in online poker, and semi-bluffing is no exception. If you’re the last player to act after the flop in a Texas Hold’em poker game and your opponent checks, you can see the turn without committing any more chips. This gives you a chance to make your flush or straight for free. But don’t semi-bluff every time you’re in this situation! Check sometimes so you can balance your range and make yourself more difficult to read. This is especially important in online poker tournaments when your opponents will watch your play pattern very closely.
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