Improve Your Win Rate With a Semi-Bluff

Learn how to make a successful semi-bluff at the poker table

Having a semi-bluff in your arsenal is a great way to keep your opponents guessing. It is one way to add more chips to your stack and improve your overall win rate.

Think of a semi-bluff as a bluff with a Plan B. Stone cold bluffs require our opponent to fold for you to win the pot. They are high risk and leave you with egg on your face when they fail. A semi-bluff, however, is powerful because it does not rely on your opponent giving up.

Why Is A Semi-Bluff So Powerful?

Semi-bluffing needs to be part of your game. There are three key semi-bluff factors. First, your opponent can fold, and you win the pot there and then. Second, you may improve your hand on the next street if your bluff is not successful. Lastly, it helps to disguise your hand, making it possible to win more money from your unsuspecting opponent.

Let us take a look at a semi-bluff in action so you can see the strength of the play.

We sat in a $1/$3 No-Limit Hold’em cash game where most of our opponents are loose-passive. We already know loose-passive players are a gold mine; you may call them fish!

A trio of players limp into the pot, and you call in the cutoff with Ah-6h. The button calls, as does the small blind, and the big blind checks – what a game! There are seven players to the Kh-7h-3d flop and $21 in the pot.

One player bets $15 after a couple of players tap the table and check. Most people call the $15 here hoping to hit the nut flush on the turn. But what about a raise? We only have ace-high, but nobody has indicated any real strength. Raising to $40 here, as a semi-bluff, could be the correct play.

Raising here is likely to fold out most of your loose-passive opponents. They probably will not put you on ace-king because we would have raised preflop. However, we could have hands like king-seven, or even sets of sevens or threes. We can hit a heart on the turn even if our opponent calls here.

Some Math Behind Our Decision

We estimate we have an approximate 40% chance of our bluff succeeding in this spot. But that is not the only way we can win the hand. We hit a heart on the turn or river 38% of the time. There is a good chance our ace is good if we hit that too. Let us take a look at the possible scenarios to see if a semi-bluff is profitable.

Raising to $40 and all our opponents fold is one scenario. We estimated our bluff is successful 40% of the time, so we win the $36 pot 40% of the time. This equates to winning $14.40.

The remaining 60% of the time we are called, but we do not always lose; we win 38% of the time. Hitting our flush means we almost certainly win the $61 pot (the $36 already there plus our opponent’s call of $25). Thirty-eight percent of $61 equals $23.18. Add this money to the money won from a successful bluff, and you come to $37.58.

Still with us? Good. Take the potential winnings from the cost of an unsuccessful bluff ($37.58 minus $40), and you come to a loss of $2.42. A semi-bluff is a losing play in this spot, or is it?

A semi-bluff here is still very profitable, and here is why. We failed to take into account the times our opponent calls, we hit our flush, and our opponent pays off additional bets. Playing our draw fast here disguises our hand somewhat. They may not believe we have a flush because who raising with a flush draw? The semi-bluff becomes massively profitable if our opponent calls another bet on the turn.

Conclusion

A semi-bluff is a powerful tool every poker player needs in their arsenal. It keeps opponents guessing and gives us more than one way to win the pot. Please do not overdo it with these moves, like any play in poker. Savvy players will cotton onto what you are doing and punish you with re-raises.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.

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