A semi-bluff is where you bet a hand a little bit stronger than you should or make a bet implying a hand is a bit better than it is. Usually the hope and prayer behind a semi-bluff is that if someone calls you, you have a decent chance of outdrawing your opponent.
Think of a semi-bluff like having a pit bull puppy with a deeper-than-normal bark. It sounds evil enough that most people will stay away. And for those who venture into the yard? Well, maybe it’ll grow big enough that by the time your opponent opens the door to your house, the dog can tear his leg off.
When to semi-bluff
The rules for semi-bluffing are nearly identical to those of regular bluffing. The biggest difference is you’re going to be playing more heavily with the concept of drawing with a semi-bluff (whereas a full-on bluff tends to deal more with the community cards that are already dealt).
Here’s an example: Imagine you have K♥ 10♥ and the flop is Q♦ Q♥ 9♥. You’re sitting in later position, and someone bets in front of you. A raise here is a semi-bluff. You don’t really have a hand yet to speak of — just a straight draw, a flush draw, and a straight-flush draw. The hidden beauty of a raise, however, is that it may make people think you have trip queens this instant and are trying to do something like drive the flush draws away.
Here’s another example: Say you have A♠ 3♠ playing from a late position and the flop is a rainbow 9♠ 5♥ 3♣. That’s a truly anemic and shaky flop — so much so that there’s a pretty good chance no one’s going to touch it with his hole cards. A raise post-flop isn’t that bad of play in and of itself, but considering that you can catch an ace, or have a freak shot at two running spades for a flush, a raise here falls into the category of semi-bluff. (If you got a caller here and then saw another spade on the turn, it’s probably worth following it with yet another semi-bluff. Your opponent almost certainly would put you on trips at that point because he wouldn’t think you’d be crazy enough to play for a running spade flush.)
Obviously, people who are more likely to fold to a flat-out bluff are also more likely to pass on a semi-bluff.
There are a couple of reasons to consider a semi-bluff:
When someone folds, you get their money 100 percent of the time.
There are no bad beats, no lucky draws — you just flat-out win. The more often you can make this happen at a Poker table, the better your game will do in the long run. Semi-bluffing gives you chance at making that happen.
Semi-bluffing is also a nice toe into the water of the bluffing pool. It’s not a full-on bluff, so you may not be as uncomfortable about doing it (either consciously or unconsciously) because you feel you can actually make things better with a draw. This comfort, in turn, may make the play seem more “natural” to other players at the table and make them more likely to pass. Getting this kind of emotional support and security over your bluffing habits will do nothing but help your game.
Semi-bluffing is harder for opponents to read and figure out, even after they see your cards. Unless you’re playing in a home game, and especially if the people around the table are a little fatigued and the game has essentially dropped into autopilot, what happened is often not totally clear. You may get a mild taint as being either insane or just a bad player if people can’t put rhyme or reason to it. But it’s not as if a reputation like that is going to bother your game.