Even the greenest of beginning poker players knows what a bluff is. Bluffing is one of the most celebrated, yet strongly overrated, aspects poker. A term that often comes up that is less well known is that of the “semi-bluff.” This can cause a lot of confusion among beginning poker players. What is a semi-bluff? Isn’t he either bluffing or not? Semi-bluffing is an important aspect of poker, especially in no limit games like No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em. Semi-bluffing starts as an intermediate skill, but goes up into the upper echelon levels. Every poker pro knows how to semi-bluff, and when such a move is appropriate. If you want to hit that level, you will have to learn how to do so, as well.
A semi-bluff is a bet made by a player who is not holding a strong hand, but has a high potential to make it with one of the remaining cards. An example of a semi-bluff would be if you were holding an Ace of Diamonds, and a King of Diamonds. Suppose the flop is 2 diamonds, J spades, Q diamonds. Right now, if you are holding A-K of diamonds, you only have ace high. Anyone holding a jack, a queen, or a two has you beat. There is also the chance of someone holding 9-10 and getting an 8 to make the straight. Even though you have nothing, this is not a bad hand to raise on. That raise would be a semi-bluff.
Why is that a semi-bluff? It is a bluff because you have ace high. If other players bet, then you are probably behind in the hand, because technically you don’t have any hand to speak of. Still, any diamond gives you the highest flush, any king gives you high pair, any ace gives you high pair, and a ten gives you a straight. That means that potentially there are 8 cards to give you a flush, 6 cards (3 kings and 3 aces) that may give you high pair, and 3 cards (3 tens–you don’t count the ten of diamonds because that gives you a flush) for a straight. This means that there are conceivably 17 cards that give you the best hand! Since a deck has 52 cards, minus your two and minus three on the board, your odds are 17/47, or better than 1-3! If this is a Texas Hold ‘Em game, this means that not only do more than 1 out of 3 cards help you, but you get two separate chances to hit one!
A bet here is a semi-bluff because while you do not have a strong hand yet, you have a very good chance of making one before the end. That is why a raise here is a good idea. If everyone folds, then you take the pot! If someone calls, you still have a good chance of hitting a strong hand and winning the pot at the end. This is a semi-bluff because your chances of making good are good enough to chance a bet or a raise even when you have not made the money hand yet.
A major part of semi-bluffing is knowing your opponents’ styles of play. Are they conservative? Are they aggressive? Calling stations? If you have not played with them long enough to get this information, then do the math. You can always fall back on statistics. In a no limit game, if you had the hand and flop from the earlier example in this article, if you were short stacked, that would even be a good hand to go all in. If everyone folds, the bluff part wins. If somebody calls you, you still have an excellent chance of doubling up. Learn the proper way to use semi-bluffing, and you will watch the improvement in your game soar!