10 Essential Texas Hold'em Moves: The Semi-Bluff

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.

Today we’ll explain 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.

Tom Dwan
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 and makes it difficult for your opponent to know 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.

Pot equity is easy to calculate. 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.

William Reynolds
"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. For a more detailed explanation click through to our article on firing one, two or even three barrels.

Key Points to the Semi-Bluff:

The logic of the semi-bluff is simple:

  • 1. Two Ways to Win - you win the pot if your opponent folds and you can win if you hit your draw
  • 2. Balance Your Range - your opponent can't always put you on a big hand when you raise
  • 3. Win Bigger Pots - If you make your hand you’ll win an even bigger pot because you raised, inflating the pot

Check out the video below to get the semi-bluff basic in just two and a half minutes.

How to Semi-Bluff

Semi-Bluffing in Action

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.

Read More Essential Texas Hold'em Moves:

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Ade 2016-05-19 07:02:10

Surely a semi bluff works from early position too, in that I've taken the lead and become the agressor on the flop. A 'good' player will even interpret that early position bet as a much stronger hand and give us even more fold equity.

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