In texas hold em winning hands with massive holdings is easy.  It doesn’t take long to learn what beats what, and when we hit a monster like a full house or flush it’s less a question of whether we will win but how much we can extract from a hand.  However, in hold em, particularly tournament play, we won’t always hit the big hands we need to stay alive.  When this happens, winning hands without the holdings can be key to our enduring success.  Many players simply lack the experience or balls to make strong plays when our opponents show weakness, so we’ll examine a few of the situations where we can look to take down pots, even when our hole cards are against us.

The Poker Semi – Bluff

A semi bluff is when we make a bet or raise with a hand where if our opponent fails to fold, we still have outs to improve to the best hand.  One major factor to consider here is that a semi bluff is not blazing away at a pot in circumstances where it should be clear to us that our opponent is not laying down their hand. There’s a difference between well timed aggression where we make plays with positive equity compared to simply donking off chips. 

Let’s look at some examples of a semi bluff:

Example 1:

We hold 10 Q spades in the big blind.  Seat 4 raises, seat 5 and 6 who are both loose players call, and the small blind calls.  We call.  Flop comes down

3s 8s 7d

Seat 4 bets, seat 5 and 6 fold, small blind calls.  This is an opportunity to semi bluff.  We have a flush draw and two overcards, giving us the positive equity we need to raise the pot.

What makes a check raise a profitable play is the combined chance of our opponents folding, or the chance we will still make the best hand even if he doesn’t.  Another way to play this hand with say, the nut flush (if we had As 10s in our hand) would be to call the flop, and if our opponent checks the turn, to put in a large raise.  They may give us credit for a monster hand as against their probable holdings, and if they call we still have the chance to draw to the strongest hand (albeit that our odds will be lower of hitting).  The value in this latter play is that our opponents holdings will need to be stronger to justify a call or raise, subject of course to variables like the remaining stack sizes.

Example 2:

We have pocket sevens in late position.  Seat 4 bets and we are the only caller.  The flop comes down:

4 6 10.

Again, this is an ok spot to semi bluff against the right opponent.  There’s a 60% chance our opponent has missed, and if they have raised in early position may just have overcards.  In this situation we’d need to carefully evaluate our hand if played back at, as the likelihood of hitting our 6 is slim.

In later posts we’ll look at the mathematics of deciding more narrow decisions and whether a semi bluff can be profitable, but it’s an important lesson which demonstrates that we can still make positive equity plays even without a made hand, and the profitability in making such plays is derived from the prospect of making our opponent fold.

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Filed under: Holdem Betting Strategy

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