Bluffing is vital to winning at poker. Without it, you can’t expect to win enough of the time to make money.
One of the best bluffs in your betting arsenal is the semi-bluff ie betting with a hand has the potential to be the winner at the river. You may not have anything when you bet but you have good odds to make a strong winner.
Semi-bluffing is great for two reasons. Firstly, if you bluff and your opponents fold, you win. Secondly, if you bluff, your opponents call and you hit your card, you can get paid big time.
There is an art to semi-bluffing though that will increase your win rate.
So, with this in mind, here are 6 highly profitable tips of semi-bluffing.
1. Understand The Difference Between Total-Bluffing And Semi-Bluffing
Total-bluffing means that you have little to no chance of winning the hand if you get called. As such, total-bluffs have 0% pot equity.
On the other hand, semi-bluffing leaves you with some chance of winning the hand if you get called. Some semi-bluffs have higher pot equity than others too. For example, open-ended straight drawers have a higher pot equity than a gutshot.
The greater your chances of winning, the more equity you have in the hand.
Also, you can only make a semi-bluff on the flop or the turn. This is because these cards give you the chance to make a better hand on a later street.
This also means that you cannot semi-bluff on the river. You can only make a bluff that has a 0% chance of winning, or you are betting for value and actually are looking for your opponent to call your bet.
2. Look At The Board Texture
Don’t start betting your semi-bluffs without analyzing the board. No matter what bluff you’re trying to pull off, it must make sense to your opponent or they will call it off and you’ll be caught red-handed.
Here’s an example.
Imagine that the flop comes down 9-5-2 with cards two spades and you have two spades in your hand. Naturally, you would want to check to see a free card and try and hit the dream turn card. If the turn brings in a high diamond card, it makes sense to bet here as a semi-bluff as betting an overcard helps to make your initial flop check make sense.
However, if the turn brought in another 9, checking would be a good idea. If your opponent thinks you would have bet your top pair or overpairs, the 9 on the turn isn’t going to help you much here either, so bluffing doesn’t make much sense.
Therefore, don’t just bet every board when you have a semi-bluff opportunity. This would simply be donating your chips to your opponents – something which is never advised in poker.
3. Use The Check Or Bet Semi-Bluff Equation
Following on from the above, here’s how you can calculate when to bet and when to check. This is a mistake that many people make.
The semi-bluff equation is as follows:
Profitability = Pot Equity + Fold Equity
Lucian Lucian Marinescu, partner at OnlineCasinoGems, explains how the semi-bluff equation works:
“As your equity in the pot increases, the more money you will win when you make your draw. On the other hand, fold equity refers to how likely your opponent will fold. When you have high pot equity, you don’t need to worry about making your opponent fold much as you can still hit the winning hand. If you are playing against more timid players though, pot equity becomes less important than fold equity.”
4. Think About Your Position
As noted by Weekly Slots News, you won’t win every time you gamble or play poker. But knowing your position will certainly help improve your win rate.
Position is power in poker, so the way you play your semi-bluff will change depending on if you’re in or out of position.
When out of position, you could alter your strategy to betting your semi-bluffs more often compared to if you were in position. On the other hand, when in position, you may wish to consider checking more and using your opponent’s play to determine your next course of action.
5. Semi-Bluffs Aren’t Just Flush And Straight Draws
WSJ published a post documenting how investors can learn from poker players. When it comes to betting draws though, some players didn’t get the memo. They go crazy when they have a flush draw or an open ender. FYI, this is not a very good poker strategy so you should know when it’s time to put the pressure on and when to hold back.
One tactic that few players utilize is betting or raising with two weak overcards. Semi-bluffing here can give you a strong top or second pair or potentially draw a card on the turn that can give your hand more equity in the form of a draw.
Here’s an example.
Imagine you were dealt T9 of hearts on the button. It folds to you so you bet and the big blind calls. The flop comes J-6-2 rainbow with no hearts. Betting here as a semi-bluff works great here.
Firstly, you can represent a strong Jack here while your opponent cannot have that hand.
Secondly, you also have good backdoor opportunities on the turn if they call with a 6: a Q or an 8 gives you an opener ender (and the 8 also gives you two overcards to make second pair), while a T or 9 also gives you a second pair that beats a 6.
6. Consider The Metagame
The metagame is what players think to themselves as they play against each other during a hand, ie “he thinks when I make this move, it means this…” and so on and so forth. As noted by Gambler’s Daily Digest, this is reserved for more experienced players.
Certain actions that have taken place in previous hands can influence a player’s decision in the current hand, causing them to play differently to their original strategy.
For example, if you check-raise with a small overpair but your opponent reraises all-in and they’re bluffing, no harm done, you move on. But, when you have a very strong equity hand like a flush and straight draw and you play it the same way, your opponent may think they have an edge and make the same shove, you can easily call and get the money in as a strong favorite.