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Poker Strategy: Semi-bluffing
By Loki Luchs of

Tenderfoot players differ from professional players in many ways. While understanding theory is obviously one of the major things that a beginner lacks, it's actually experiencing the theory that really improves a player's game. When a clueless player sits down at a table, they play because playing is fun. When a studied noobie sits down at the table, he analyzes the situation (often out-loud and obnoxiously) and at least recognizes in retrospect what other players (and hopefully himself) could have done to play optimally. The seasoned player differs because when the play is happening, they weigh the situation and know what the right play is regardless of the outcome.

One of the situations that seasoned pros often play differently than amateurs is the semi-bluff. A semi-bluff is any situation where you do not have a hand, but you have one or more possible ways of winning if you're called. For instance, if you're on an up and down straight draw with two cards to come, and you put your opponent on top pair, you have about a 1:2 (33%) chance of winning. Most new players will either call or check in order to get the straight before they bet. This is a critical mistake! The power of the semi-bluff lies in the bet itself. You will often pick up pots just for the bet, so you end up winning much more often than you would if you just called to the river.


The semi-bluff also is powerful because it masks your hand! Many players have a hard time visualizing your hand if you are betting the come. When you hammer out a raise when you complete a straight with a blank card, your opponents will have problems visualizing how that card helped you. They are far more likely to call thinking that you're bluffing or overplaying your hand. This is especially true after a little pot building has made the center of the table too tasty to fold to a value bet. Some players even over bet the pot if they've been bluffing a lot, to induce an over-call or an all in from the opponents.

Another way that you can use the semi-bluff is with position. When you're against a small number of opponents and you're in position, you can always raise to scare opponents on the flop. This representation of strength to new players is not usually a sign of a semi-bluff. They know that if they call, they will face up to two more large bets out of position, so they will often get out of your way.

It's important to know the numbers before you begin value betting. I usually don't consider a bet to be a semi-bluff unless my expected win is at least a 1:2 ratio. This gives me plenty of opportunities to make a hand and I'll have several betting opportunities to pick up the pot due to my aggression. By misrepresenting my hand, I'm creating opportunities for my opponents to make mistakes; the more mistakes I create, the more money I will eventually have!


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