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The - SemiBluffing Part II

by Rep Porter |  Published: Sep 16, 2015


In my last article, I wrote about the idea of semibluffing. I defined semibluffing as betting or raising when you think your hand is weaker than the average holding your opponent may have in a situation. Semibluffing relies on the combination of creating fold equity and your equity in the pot if it continues to showdown. Each factor contributes equity to your overall value to make your bet positive expectancy. But if either factor is positive expectancy on its own, then you aren’t really semibluffing.

In the example from the last article, we set up the following situation: 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. We estimated that our opponent was opening with 20 percent of his range and that he would fold to a raise about 50 percent of the time. In a moment, we will look at why a 50 percent fold rate is reasonable.

In our situation, with the pot being 1,000 and the bet you are facing being 500, we said a reasonable raise would be to 1,500. So you would be risking 1,500 to try to win the pot that is 1,500. If you are 50 percent to win this pot right here, you are breakeven in expectancy and just adding variance to your game. So you can’t just make a raise here without any chance of winning the pot if you are called and have it be a good play. But if you have a reasonable chance to win the pot if it continues, that will add value to the value you get when your opponent folds. The combination of the two good things is what makes the bet good when neither bluffing nor your chances of winning are enough on their own. If your opponent is 60 percent to fold, then you have a positive expectancy just from betting without regard to your holding. This would simply be a positive expectancy bet and not a semibluff.

In this case, we think our opponent will fold about 50 percent of the time. To make this estimation, I break down what hands are in the 20 percent range, how many instances of each there are, whether I would call with position with those hands in this situation, and then I add them up. So in this case, I have 96 hands I would call with most of the time, things like pocket pairs over 5-5, sets, A-10, K-10 suited down to 10-8 suited, 6-5 suited and 5-4 suited. There would be 100 hands I would fold most of the time, including K-Q, K-J, Q-J, and all the suited aces coupled with a nine and smaller that aren’t paired. And then there are about 50 hands that are situational, A-K, A-Q, A-J and sometime the A-2 suited and A-4 suited hands. The point of doing this exercise is to start to really understand what your opponents’ ranges are and how likely they are to have connected with various boards. If we had found that an opponent was folding 60-70 percent of the time in this spot, we should simply check-raise a lot for the fold equity alone.

It is also true that when we have a significant chance of winning the pot, we can simply have a positive expectancy call due to pot odds. If we are 25 percent or more to improve on the next card, calling is suddenly a viable option. That doesn’t necessarily mean that raising isn’t a better option (we can look at that a different day), but we started this conversation with the premise that calling wasn’t profitable. We can use this information to start to break down and create boundaries for what the situation needs to look like for semibluffing to be a profitable play.

When you estimate that your opponents are folding closer to 50 percent, say 40 percent or more, you can get away with having a 10-15 percent chance to win the pot. With one card to come, that is between six and eight outs. With two cards to come, it is a little trickier because you don’t always get to see both cards, but a reasonable estimate is 4-6 outs.

On the other end, when you think you have maybe a 20 percent chance of your opponent folding, you need a significantly better chance of winning the pot. You need to win close to 30 percent of the time in this case to be making a profitable bet (breakeven is right about 29 percent). With one card to come, this is 14 or more outs, and with two to come, it is somewhere between nine and ten outs.

Summing this up, the ranges you are looking at to semibluff are:

• Your opponent folds between 15 and 45 percent of the time.
• You have a continuing equity in the pot, winning between 15 and 30 percent of the time.

I would say any time your opponent is more than 30 percent likely to fold and you are 25 percent or more to win, semibluffing is a viable option. When you have less of one, you need more of the other. And remember, sometimes your opponent re-raises, or beats your hand when you improve, so you can’t operate too close to the lines. ♠

Rep Porter is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and is the lead instructor at, 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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