find a common problem with many players who have read a few Sklansky poker books: they routinely semi-bluff the flop. Worse still, they frequently semi-bluff when it is completely the wrong strategy. By avoiding some common errors, you should be able to semi-bluff more successfully.
Remember: You are BLUFFING!Let's start with basic definitions for those of you who forgot. A bluff is when you bet or raise with a hand that is weaker than your opponent(s). The objective of the bluff is to win the pot without having to showdown your hand.
Let's say you have 10-9 and the flop comes A-J-6. The first player bets, the second and third players both call. If you raise, it would be a pure bluff. I'd say that with this sort of action in front of you, one of your opponents must have an ace. Since your hand is a long way behind a pair of aces, you are bluffing: betting a poorer hand in an attempt to win the pot without a showdown. It doesn't take Einstein to work out that a bluff in this situation has virtually no chance of success.
Now let's change the cards in the above scenario. You have 10-9 and the flop is A-J-8. Again the first player bets and two players call. If you raise here, you are semi-bluffing. However, there is no difference between the two scenarios: in both cases you are raising with the poorer hand and you have little or no chance of winning the pot with that bet. Somehow, many players believe that bluffing with outs is very different from bluffing with few or no outs. This is a clear mistake.
Let me give you another example to get the point across. You have 7-8 off suit and the flop is Jd-Qd-As. If there were four players in the pot, you would never consider bluffing on this flop with 7-8 offsuit. If you hold 7d-8d, the situation may appear different, but your approach should be identical: avoid semi-bluffs where a pure bluff would have no chance of success.
I have seen many players routinely bet or raise in these situations. I put this mistake down to the fact that many inexperienced players believe that professionals routinely make this play at the pot. This is not so.
The Value of Semi-Bluffing is in the "Bluff" ComponentThe way you win money on semi-bluffs is when the 'bluff' actually succeeds. If I flop an ace high flush draw and choosing to semi-bluff, I am actually hoping that my opponents don't call. I want the "bluff" component of the play to win me the pot right there. This is the whole point of bluffing with outs. More often than not, you'll miss your draw, so it is better to check and call with a draw if you think that a semi-bluff will not win you the pot. Reserve the semi-bluff for situations where a pure bluff may work.
For example, if I have Ad-5d and the flop is Kd-Qd-9s and I am up against four opponents, a semi-bluff will almost never work. So I won't do it. Why put extra money in the pot when you are an underdog. If you face a bet, you have very good pot odds to call with this many players in the pot. So the best move is to check and call. If it is checked to you, check and see the turn for free. An opponent probably has you beat on the flop and if they choose to give you a free shot at drawing out on them, take advantage of that mistake. Don't start betting and getting yourself into trouble when a free card is on offer.
Also consider this: if you are on a nut flush draw in a multi-way pot, why do you want to raise potential callers out of the pot. One player may fold 10-9 if you raise on a flop of Kd-Qd-9s. If the turn is a Jd, 10d or 9d, would you be happy that this opponent folded?
However, if it's heads up on the turn and I have Ad-5d and the board is 3-6-Qd-3d, I might raise my opponent's bet if I think he has a hand like AK or 8-8. While I am semi-bluffing, I believe this raise has a reasonable prospect of winning the pot right there. If he calls and I catch a diamond, good for me, but that won't happen most of the time. Therefore, I'm really hoping that he'll fold rather than call.
Common Mistakes of Semi-BluffingThe point of this article is to discourage you from semi-bluffing routinely. In order to do this, I need to point out the situations when it is a mistake to semi-bluff. If you try and avoid semi-bluffing in these situations, you should show more profit in the long run.
The first common mistake is semi-bluffing when there are too many opponents in the pot. If there are six players in a pot and you flop a good flush or straight draw and it is checked to you, check right behind time. It is very unlikely that five opponents will fold on the flop to a single bet.
The second common mistake is automatically semi-bluffing when you are in position. If there are three or four opponents in the pot and they all check to you, you must consider that a bet looks suspicious to some of them. This is especially true when you are up against good players who may put your on a steal due to your position. It won't take long for them to realize that you will always semi-bluff when it is checked to you. They may then use this information against you when you try and bluff/semi-bluff in the future.
The third mistake is semi-bluffing the wrong boards. Avoid semi-bluffing when the texture of the board is likely to have hit a number of players. If you have 7s-8s and the flop is Ks-Qs-9d, a semi-bluff is unlikely to be successful against a three or more opponents. This flop is bound to have hit someone and they are probably not going to fold. So why bother semi-bluffing if you wouldn't bluff in this situation.
How to Successfully Semi-BluffIf you avoid the mistakes above, you should be able to show more profit and success with the semi-bluff. I wish to conclude with two general observations regarding my success at semi-bluffing.
First, it is important to have the right image for semi-bluffing. Usually when I bet, my opponents think it's more likely that I have top pair than a nut flush draw. That image serves me well in semi-bluffing. If you play a relatively loose game or you frequently get caught bluffing, a semi-bluff will not bring you as much success. Sometimes during a session, I get caught bluffing a few times. When this happens, I usually abandon the semi-bluff for a couple of hours. It isn't worth the risk while my image is a bit on the loose side.
Do not semi-bluff routinely. If prefer to mix up my semi-bluff and reserve it for the right situations. Usually I make the same considerations that I do when I'm bluffing. I usually think that my opponent(s) is capable of folding and has a hand that he probably wouldn't call a bet/raise with.
In a nutshell, semi-bluff at the right time and in moderation!