Semi-bluffing

Example 1

$25/$50 HU against a thinking aggressive opponent, he has $5,000 and I cover. He raises the button and he does that a lot so I fight back with A♦‐2♦ and raise to $450 and he calls as he has done a fair amount of the time. The flop is 2♥‐3♠‐4♥, I check and he bets $650.

He would bet the flop fairly often after I check, and then given that he also raises a lot pre‐flop and often calls my reraise, too – that makes his hand range quite wide. Since he is playing so loose and aggressive a big made hand can be discounted for the most part (al‐ though not entirely). Also since he is so loose the odds of him hav‐ ing a pocket pair are less, too, and it can be more weighted in favor of a nothing hand trying to steal the pot. However, even if he does have a pocket pair he will have a hard time calling my all‐in raise because it’s so big. From his perspective with a medium pocket pair, I could have either have a big hand that has him crushed like an overpair, or two overcards which along with the gutshot draw if I have an ace have many outs and aren’t even that big of an underdog. Because of that, it will be hard for him to call, and hard to call even

if he does have a mediocre made hand which is at the higher end of his range. Even if he does call I still have 9 outs and am risking $4,500 to win $1,500. The immediate pot odds say that if I always lose if he calls then my bluff has to work 3/4 times for it to be profit‐ able. But let’s say he has 10‐10 and he calls, in which case I have 9 outs which has 35% chance of winning. By doing an EV calculation we can see that if he folds 40% of the time it’s a break‐even play and if he folds more I make money. Also this play in particular is good for metagame as it will make him scared and frustrated.

Example 2

$25/$50 five‐handed. I raise UTG to $175 and the button calls, he’s a little wily and tricky but not good. I have Q‐K and the flop is J‐J‐6, I check and he bets $350. Now it’s time to do some hand reading as his bet feels weird here. One possibility is he hit trip jacks because he bet full pot on the flop so he is trying to build a pot now. And with some players they will have trip jacks a lot here, but since this opponent is a little tricky he doesn’t need a great hand to float with pre‐flop and he is not a nit and will bet more than trips on this flop so it makes trips unlikely just by virtue of the fact that they are hard to hit. If he has a lower pocket pair he would probably bet less be‐cause all he needs to do is bet enough to protect his hand – he wouldn’t want to bet a lot for value because there is no value there for him. Even if it is a pocket pair I most likely have two overcards to it, and also it will be hard for him to call me, and particularly hard for this player to call me because he respects my game and doesn’t want to tangle in big pots. So I check‐raised to $1,000 here and he folded.

Example 3

$10/$25 six‐handed, 100BB effective stacks. UTG limps, I raise on the button to $110 with A♦-Q♦, the BB calls and so does limper. Flop is 3♥‐4♥‐7♦ and they both check. Most people continuation bet and bluff too much but this happens to be a good spot and there are a few factors here that make it a good bet here. Because of the way the hand developed we happen to be able to represent more strength here than is usual and that is the key.

First, our bet will be against two opponents and not one so our bet represents strength. Also since there are three people in the pot that put in a full bet pre‐flop the pot size is bigger so our natural pot‐ sized bet will be bigger than normal – a full $340. If one of them has a pocket pair maybe they will feel comfortable calling a small bet (because they have a small hand) but not a big bet.

Also one final reason is because the pre‐flop action was not raise, call, call. It was limp, raise, call, call, which again makes the pot size bigger because my pot sized raise pre‐flop came after the limper. And thus it follows that it’s tougher for them to continue with pocket pairs because they are weak hands that don’t want to face big bets. The crux here is this situation just so happens to allow me to represent greater strength than I normally can in this type of situation. So I should take advantage of that ability to represent strength and bluff the flop, which I did and they both folded.

Example 4

$5/$10 six‐handed, UTG limps and I raise next to act with A♣-J♣ to $45, UTG calls and it’s heads up. The flop is Q‐10‐6 and he checks. This is a good spot to take it slow and check behind. First of all by checking we ensure seeing another card and can maybe hit the straight or a pair. Beyond that, maybe he has something and maybe he doesn’t. If he doesn’t and he has that pocket pair that people like to limp in with from EP then he will check the turn and we can bet and our turn semi‐bluff will be as effective as if we had semi‐bluffed the flop. What we’ve done effectively is save ourselves money the times he does have hands and the times he tells us that by leading out on the turn. The downside is if he decides to lead into us on the turn and bluff, but since most people don’t play good tricky poker this isn’t much of a risk. Another downside is if he takes a weak hand he would have folded to a bet on the flop and gets suspicious and calls the turn. That’s not really a problem either because if he has a pocket pair, the board is simply too scary and there are too many overcards/draws for him to play around and try calling even if it is on the turn. In the hand I checked the flop. The turn was a 4 and he check‐folded to my bet.

Example 5

$10/$25 four‐handed, I open on button with Q♦-9♥ to $85 and the SB calls. The flop is K♦‐5♠‐2♦, he checks and because he’s in the SB it’s more likely he has a pocket pair than two high cards with a king, because with two high cards people are happy to take the pot down immediately pre‐flop whereas with a pocket pair they want to call and hit a set and build a big pot. I bet the flop full pot $190 and he called so the pot is $570.

The turn is the 6♦. I had been playing aggressively to make him ad‐ just and call me down lighter so his flop call is weaker than normal. The stack sizes are perfect for this play here, he now has $1,600 left and I covered. On the turn the pot is $570 and I bet $525. The reasoning behind this play is multifaceted – first of all I have outs if he calls (also some implied odds). Secondly, his hand range is wide and fairly weak. And thirdly, the power of my bet is that if he has a mar‐ ginal hand he isn’t just looking at the $525 bet on the turn, he’s really looking at committing his full stack of $1,600 if he wants to raise to protect his hand, or he is looking to call a river bet of mine. So I bet $525 and in position have the choice of whether to put that last $1,075 in the pot. One consideration for this hand is how passive or aggressive the opponent is. The more aggressive he is the more likely you should be to check behind and the more passive the more likely you should be to bet. If he is very aggressive and will only raise or fold here than you are devaluing your hand, which has value in the Q♦ for flush outs and even implied odds, into a pure bluff.

Example 6

$10/$25 vs. the same opponent shortly after. I raise J♠-4♠ to $75 and he calls. The flop is 3♠‐5♥‐6♥ and he checks. A part of me wanted to check because he is aggressive, and it would be bad if I got check‐ raised on the flop, but on the other hand that is playing right into the his hands – the more passive I play to some extent the more he wins. Let’s say he is an aggressive bad player who is just wacky, then in that case I can play passive and just wait for hands and beat him that way. But if he is aggressive and decent, which this oppo‐ nent was, I can’t play passive and wait around. Sometimes you just have to play. aggressive and get into tough situations. Note here in this situation how much easier it is to play vs. a passive player (which is the equivalent of saying a bad player). Anyway, I bet and this time he just called me. The turn is the 8♥. I’m not sure what he had but I used the same reasoning as before that he just called the flop so was weak. Then the turn could have helped him but proba‐ bly not because he was weak, then he checks the turn again and it’s very consistent for me to go ahead and bet again and even if he calls I still have outs. Here he folded.

Example 7

$10/$25 seven‐handed, I open to $85 and a loose, slightly crazy but decent player calls in the BB. I have Q‐10o and the flop is J♠‐4♠‐7♥, he checks and I check. The turn is 9♥ and he leads out $110. He’s a decent player so he doesn’t give away a lot of information with his bet – he could have a semi‐bluff, a made hand or a big made hand. This is a good spot to semi‐bluff raise for a few simple reasons. First of all we have outs to hit a big hand. Secondly if he calls it’s not really that bad because as stated we have equity in the pot, and also implied odds to win a big pot. Finally we have position and there are a number of scare cards that can come which we can take advan‐ tage of to bluff too like a third heart – our play is perfectly consistent with a heart flush draw, and probably represents that more than anything. We checked the flop so we didn’t like our hand then, but then on the turn a 9♥ came and we like our hand now so much we decide to raise – what changed? A heart came supposedly giving us a flush draw. In the hand he folded to the raise.

Example 8

$25/$50 HU, opponent has $1,800 and I cover. I have A♣-7♣ and
raise to $150 from the button, he reraises to $390 and I call. The call
is slightly marginal, but the opponent isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed so that made me want to call. The flop is K♥‐5♦‐4♠, check‐check. The turn is the 6♦ and he leads out $260. This is a perfect spot to semi‐bluff, the opponent checked the flop and then bet small on the turn so that makes him look weak. Although to be honest it’s un‐ clear since he’s a little tricky and he could definitely have a good hand here.

What then makes it a good spot to raise is two things. First of all we have outs – we have the open‐ended straight draw, which gives us a eight outs and also there is a fair chance our ace high is good for an‐ other three outs. Beyond that the stack sizes are perfect. Part of the reason not to semi‐bluff raise most of the time is the way an oppo‐nent can outplay you by reraising your semi‐bluff. Here, however, that is simply not possible for our opponent. A natural pot‐sized raise for us is about all‐in so there is no way for him to counteract the play and it’s also good for image reasons and getting action later on with bigger hands.

Example 9

$25/$50 HU, opponent raises to $150 and I call with 10♥-9♥. The flop is 3♠‐3♣‐8♥, I check and he bets $175. This is a good spot to check‐ raise him – again his bet size is small and weird and he is probably weak. And even if I’m wrong there are backdoor straight and flush draws which are significant as they let me continue a semi‐bluff on the turn if I choose to, and if they hit on the river they are such dis‐ guised and strong hands the implied odds are massive and I can make a lot of money. There are a full 10 hearts that can come, six non‐heart straight cards and also six pairing cards. Here I raised and he folded.

Example 10

$10/$25 HU, I raise on the button with 4♠-7♠ to $75 and my oppo‐ nent calls. Flop is 5♦‐4♦‐3♦, check‐check. Turn is J♠ and he bets $70. Poker is a complicated game with a lot of things going on so it’s im‐ portant to be able to simplify situations and analyze only the relevant factors. Here the hand turns out to be quite simple and we can ignore things like pot control, putting him on hand ranges and so on, and just look at two things. The first factor is that he made an odd looking small bet so this means he is weak. The second is that we have outs to hit a better hand. That’s all it takes – all we need to see here is the weak bet and outs even if he does call us. I raised the pot and he folded.

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