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Poker Strategy With Rep Porter: Semi Bluffing

by Rep Porter |  Published: Sep 02, 2015

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Today I want to explore the idea of semibluffing. I would define semibluffing as betting when you think your hand is weaker than the average holding your opponent may have in a situation. When you are semibluffing, you are relying on the “two ways to win” concept. First and foremost, your opponent may fold, and second you can win the pot at showdown, either by having the best hand or improving to the best hand.

Let me set up an example of what a semibluff might look like. You are the big blind and you defend against a middle position raise. You have AClub Suit 4Club Suit. Now the flop comes 10Club Suit 5Spade Suit 3Diamond Suit. You have ace-high with a gutshot straight draw. You check the flop and your opponent makes a standard continuation-bet. If you check-raise here, you are semibluffing. Ace-high has some of your opponent’s hands beat, but not a lot, and you have seven pretty solid outs, aces and deuces.

When you check-raise, you are hoping that the combination of your opponent folding and you winning the pot when he calls are enough to make this a profitable play. So let’s first look at what calling and folding are like. When you look at calling on the flop, if your opponent has made a half pot-sized bet, then you are getting 3:1. This is a pretty normal heads-up post-flop dynamic. You have seven outs with 47 unknown cards. You need between 5:1 and 6:1 to be able to call based on pot odds. It also is very tough to call and think you are just going to get to showdown and get to roll over your hand and see if you win. Calling looks pretty bad.

What about folding? Well, you have an average flop for your hand. You flopped a gutshot, an overcard, and a backdoor flush draw. Not as good as a pair or a regular flush draw, but better than a lot of flops where you whiff. It is a situation where, when you are thinking about folding, you say to yourself, why did I even play this hand if I have to fold that flop? So you don’t really like folding either.

But you do have a third option. You can raise. Let’s look at how that would work. Suppose the pot was 1,000 and your opponent had bet 500. Now a normal raise in this spot would be to an amount like 1,500. So you throw out 1,500 trying to get your opponent to fold so you can win the 1,500 in the middle. If he folds half the time, you break even. That sounds about reasonable. But when he calls, you still have chances to win this pot. I would guess you are around 20 percent to actually win the pot if this raise gets you to the river. You improve your hand to aces or better about 30 percent of the time, but sometimes the aces don’t actually win the pot, and sometimes you don’t get to the river.

So if you win the pot 50 percent of the time when you raise, you get back 1,500 chips on average for that part of the semibluff, half of the 3,000 total that is in the middle. And then half the time you are called and the pot swells to 4,000. If you win that pot about 25 percent of the times you are called, you gain another 500 in equity. It looks like it should be 25 percent of 4,000 equals 1,000, but this only happens half the time, so your gain is half of the 1,000. Between the two cases, you get a tidy total of 2,000 back for your 1,500 invested.

So the biggest question here is what happens if your opponent only folds 40 percent of the time? Or 30 percent of the time? Let’s quickly look at the numbers for your opponent folding 30 percent of the time. The pot will still be 3,000 total, times the 30 percent you win right now. So your equity is 30 percent of 3,000, or 900 from the folds. When you continue, 70 percent of the time the pot is 4,000. You are still 25 percent or so to win, so the times when this happens, you are worth 1,000. So the 70 percent calls give you about 700 more in equity. When you add the 900 and 700 together, you get 1,600 back for your 1,500. Not nearly as good, and it is a little generous, because sometimes you are reraised or your opponent bets the turn, you fold, and you don’t realize all of the 700.

The value of the semibluff comes from the fold equity you are able to create when you bet. You are truly relying on the concept that you have two ways to win to make this a profitable play. In the next article, I will go into more detail about how to estimate the frequency your opponents fold in spots like this and also talk about how betting strong draws works well as a semibluff. ♠

Rep Porter is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and is the lead instructor at ThePokerAcademy.com, whose mission is to help poker players achieve better results through better decisions and that is done by teaching poker in a way that makes learning easy and enjoyable with high quality courses taught by professional players.

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