When you flop a strong draw, it’s often a good idea to play it aggressively. This gives you two ways to win. You can make your hand and win a showdown, or your opponent can fold, ceding you the pot automatically.
Deciding whether or not to semi-bluff involves a number of factors. How strong is your draw? Are you willing to commit your stack? How often will your opponent fold to aggression? What are your implied odds when you get there? Will raising the flop or turn set you up for a profitable bluff later in the hand? The answers to these questions will frequently instruct you to play your draw aggressively. Right now, though, we’re going to take a look at a particular situation where they do not.
Let’s get back to the Q♥ J♥ example in the previous chapter. You had called in the big blind and taken a heads- up flop of T♥ 5♥ 2♦ . You may have wondered why you would check/call that board instead of semi-bluff. Against aggressive opponents, you should usually check/raise with a flush draw with two overcards. That’s a big draw. You have a chance to get it in pretty good on the flop, and your opponent’s range will have tons of air that will fold outright.
But the example in question was against a passive player. He will only bet the turn when he has a hand, and will give up with all of his air. In other words, he’ll tell you on the turn whether your flop semi-bluff would have worked. But only if you’re patient enough to listen.
You may be able to put in a profitable raise on the flop with this hand. You probably can. But you could wait until the river to bluff instead, and find yourself in an even more profitable situation. Why waste your bullets early when you can wait and let your opponent tell you now whether or not you’ll hit your target?
Semi-bluffing is very often going to be correct, but don’t do it out of reflex. Take the time to consider your opponent, his range, and how he’ll respond with different parts of that range on the flop, turn, and river. You’ll need to rely on judgment and experience to find the best way to play each draw, but here are some guidelines that may help.
• How strong is your draw? If your draw is so strong that you want to get all in, then playing it aggressively makes a lot of sense. With a very strong draw, you can have the best hand so often that you’re actually getting your chips in for value. For example, A♠ Q♠ on J♠ T♦ 6♠ is a monster draw that has great equity against anything besides a set. You’ll even win one time in three against the nuts. Ace-high flush draws are often good candidates for semi-bluffing since you can win with ace high when your opponent gets it in with a lower draw.
• Are you willing to commit your stack? In general, you should be more willing to semi-bluff if you’re willing to get all of your chips in the middle. The converse is that you don’t want to put in a semi-bluff and get moved off of your equity when your opponent plays back at you. That doesn’t mean you should never raise 5♣ 4♣ on J♣ 6♦ 2♦ , but getting re-raised off your 4-outer is a risk you should consider.
• How often will your opponent fold to aggression? The more often your opponent folds, the less of a draw you need to have a profitable semi-bluff. Put another way: as your folding equity increases, you don’t need as much showdown equity. The more often your opponent calls down, the less frequently you should be bluffing, but the more often you should be jamming with your super-strong draws for value.
• What are your implied odds when you get there? When you have a chance to win a huge pot, you shouldn’t risk that without a compelling reason. Sometimes it pays to let your opponents stay in the pot so they can pay you when you make your draw. Other times you’ll do better to build up a big pot early so you can win more when you get there. Knowing the difference takes experience and awareness of the current situation and your opponent’s tendencies.
• Will raising the flop or turn set you up for a profitable bluff later in the hand? A lot of players will call a flop bet or raise, thinking you can have a draw, but they’re unwilling to put in a big turn bet. If you raise Q♥ J♥ on 9♥ 7♥ 2♦, you don’t need your opponent to fold the flop to make your raise profitable. If you’re likely to earn folds with turn and river bets, that’s even better. This way your opponent has contributed more money to a pot that you’re likely to win.
• Will just calling the flop set you up for a more profitable turn or river play? If your opponent will frequently give up on the turn, you may have a more profitable bluff on the turn or river than you would have on the flop.
Many times you’ll have one factor telling you to do one thing and another telling you to do something else. The key is determining which factor is more important in any given hand.