Semi-bluffing uses fold equity to give you two ways to win with your draws.
We’re here to tell you winning at poker isn’t all about fundamentals.
There are a handful of special moves that, when mastered, can make the difference between winning a little, and winning a lot.
In this ten-part beginner poker strategy series we’re going to show you exactly how to use these powerful poker moves to make more money.
Today we’re explaining the Semi-Bluff, a move that can dramatically change how much money you make from your flopped and turned draws. Instead of banking on your card coming in, learn to take control of the hand and take down the pot even when you miss.
The What: Semi-bluffing, at its core, is simply betting or raising with a draw. It’s not considered a ‘pure’ bluff because you have a hand with good potential to improve on the turn or river. By betting or raising you’re giving yourself two ways to win. You might hit your draw to make the best hand, or you could win the pot uncontested when your opponent folds.
The When: Just like the majority of poker moves, the Semi-Bluff works best when you’re in position. Because a successful semi-bluff relies so heavily on fold equity, it’s only effective when your opponent has a high probability of folding.
The Where: The Semi-Bluff can be used in virtually every poker variant and format, as long as there is a draw or multiple streets of action.
Learn to semi-bluff and pretty soon you'll be making this face too.
The Why: Semi-bluffing combines the equity in your draws and the fold equity gained by the times your opponent folds and you win the pot uncontested. It also balances your betting and raising ranges
Semi-bluffing mixes up your play, making it difficult for your opponent to determine whether you’re bluffing or betting a made hand.
Semi-Bluffing Done Right
Because you flop draws relatively often it’s important to know when a semi-bluff is appropriate, and when it’s going to cost you hard-earned money.
The key point to remember is that with semi-bluffing you’ve got two kinds of equity: Pot equity and fold equity.
Pot equity refers to the portion of the pot to which you’re entitled based solely on the strength of your cards. If you’ve got a flush draw on the flop and there’s $100 in the pot your pot equity is roughly $35, because you’re going to hit your flush about one out of three times.
Fold equity refers to the value you get when your opponent folds and you win what’s in the pot without having to hit that flush draw.
So, naturally, the more of either type of equity you have, the more money you’re going to make with your semi-bluffs.
The more pot equity you have, the less fold equity you need, since you’ll be winning the pot by making the best hand more often.
Understanding your fold equity, however, is more difficult. There’s no simple formula to follow but there are a few key factors that must be considered.
Is Your Opponent Tight or Loose? Is He a Calling Station?
Fold equity implies the possibility of your opponent folding so it’s not going to work when you’re up against a calling station married to two overcards or bottom pair.
"Yes, those two cards there. Fold them now."
Target weak/tight players that you know you can push off marginal hands.
Board Texture and Table Image
Pay attention to the texture of the flop and the hands you consider your opponent capable of having. The wider your opponent’s range the more fold equity you have, since he’ll be dumping all his air hands without thinking twice.
If your opponents have seen you semi-bluff a lot of flush draws consider your credibility on a flop like A♣ 5♣ 2♦. Start weighting your behavior more towards value-betting made hands on these kinds of boards.
Pay Attention to How the Board Develops
Convincing your opponent to fold is the chief goal when semi-bluffing and in that way it’s identical to pure bluffing. And just like when you’re bluffing with air, the cards that fall on the turn and river are critical to your chances of success.
Big cards, preferably overcards to the board, are good cards to see when you want to semi-bluff. You want cards that weaken your opponent’s perceived range and strengthen yours.
Overcards on the turn and river are especially good to bluff at because players’ flop-calling range consists of so many top and middle pairs.
Here’s a great example of Lex “RaSZi” Veldhuis semi-bluffing his way to a big, uncontested pot against Phil Ivey.
Veldhuis understands that Ivey’s range for betting this turn is extremely wide, and therefore his fold equity is very high. That, combined with the outs he has if he does get called, makes this a perfect spot for an aggressive semi-bluff.
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