How and When to Semi-bluff
We think that watching poker on YouTube can be very educational. However, there are a couple of drawbacks to watching poker on YouTube. One is that the pros seem to bluff all the time. This is not the case; the pros bluff only when it’s in their interest to do so.
Playing Poker Means Ignoring the Rake
We are about to talk about bluffing but first we have to make a point about poker in general. Many poker players are a bit obsessed with the rake and even try to use the rake calculator to help them determine their course of action. This is a mistake. The rake should never be a significant factor in a poker player’s decision making process.
When a player has to decide if this is a good hand to bluff on or to determine if the betting opponent is actually bluffing, any thoughts about the rake are totally superfluous.
What is a Semi-Bluff?
There really isn’t much difference between a genuine bluff and a semi-bluff except that in a real bluff, you know that you probably don’t have the best hand and that you probably won’t improve your hand into the best hand. So, a genuine bluff is a misdirection bet designed to get a player with the better hand to fold.
A semi-bluff is a bet on a potentially strong hand that is not yet the top hand in the deal. If you have four to a flush after the flop and you bet, it might be a semi-bluff. That’s because if you don’t hit the flush, you likely won’t have the best hand and if you do get the flush, you will be the power in the hand.
The semi-bluff is designed to get players whose hands have greater potential to win than your hand to fold. Your opponent might not want to risk going up against your flush even though he or she knows that you don’t have the flush yet. If the opponent has pocket aces, she might get three of a kind or two pair. Neither is good enough to win against your flush even though the flush is still in the potential stage.
How Can a Poker Player Know when the Time is Ripe for a Semi-Bluff?
Naturally, there are extenuating circumstances that help players decide if this is the hand to semi-bluff in or not.
- Position often dictates how a player proceeds. If you have a potentially powerful hand like four to a flush and you are also in late position after the flop, you can control the hand with a semi-bluff. Here value betting also plays a part since you might want to opponents to stay in and that dictates a value bet small enough to keep the opponents in the hand.
- Your opponent’s stack is also important. If an opponent has a short stack, they might be ripe to fold a potentially winning hand in order to not risk losing the rest of their stack.
- Your reputation is important as well. If you usually play tight, a semi-bluff might not work since your opponents will think that you have a much better hand than you have. If you are considered a thoughtful player, a semi-bluff might be understood as a pot growing bet rather than a value bet.
- Your read of your opponents is also an important factor. If your opponent is a poor player, he might not even understand the significance of your bet. Thus, a semi-bluff or a genuine bluff might not work. When you are up against an oblivious player, your best course of action is to look to bet for value.
- The stakes you are playing are very significant. Bluffing works less well at low stakes. This is often because the players can afford to stay in a hand and see another card. Let’s say an opponent sits down with a $100 stack. They might be able to lose that amount often and play just for fun. Even if they bet a bit wildly, the stakes might be so small that they can’t lose even $50 over time. Those players are impervious to any kind of bluff.
Is There Any Sure-fire Method for Evaluating a Hand?
The short and simple answer is: NO! There are simply too many factors to consider in any hand. Even in the hands that you eventually fold before the flop, you have to consider your position, your stack, you level of tiredness which another way of saying your level of awareness,, your opponents tendencies, and other considerations.
We can review this discussion into a few very general “rules” for bluffing or semi-bluffing.
- If a few players call to you in late position before the flop, it usually means that they are limping in. A semi-bluff might be in order here as it might get them to fold immediately and you could possibly steal the pot.
- If you raise before the flop and at least one opponent calls the raise and you hit any part of the flop, it might pay to make a continuation bet which amounts to a semi-bluff. However, if the opponent who called pre-flop may have hit a bigger part of the flop, then semi-bluffing is probably not a good call.
- Many players use a semi-bluff after the flop as a way of gauging their status in the hand. Here it is very important to know your opponent’s tendencies. The two most common players at low stakes are the oblivious players and the studious ones looking to move up to higher stakes games. A semi-bluff against a poor player may give you a big pot while the same bet against a studious player may be a poker disaster.
- The semi-bluff usually turns into a true bluff after the turn and the river. Here again you have to gauge your opponent well. It often doesn’t pay for you to bet into a pot that is a genuine question mark. Checking is often the best course of action.
- On the turn or the river, if your opponent is the sort to fold a moderate hand in the face of a strong bet, then a bluff is usually in order if you are betting in late position.
A Semi-bluff Turns into a Bet for Value
The tendencies with which your opponents play poker are a major gauge as to the proper size of a semi-bluff. There may be opponents who will never fold on the turn so any semi-bluff is really a bet for value.
When you bet for value in this type of situation, you should be very confident that you have the better hand. At this stage, against a player who doesn’t understand what you are doing, a semi-bluff has no real value.
Bluffing is No Substitute for Understanding the Nuances of Poker
The YouTube clips are less valuable for some players who think that bluffing is the most important part of poker. It isn’t! Understanding situations and opponents are a lot more important than blindly bluffing. Still, bluffing and semi-bluffing have important roles to play since they can confuse your opponents, they make you a lot less of an open book, they can help you steal a few pots, and they demonstrate that there are moments when you will show a great deal of courage.
Your opponents will not know if this is a bluff showing courage or if you have a really solid hand and just want them to feed the pot!
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