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Am I Making a Good Bet? Part V

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Dec 07, 2016


In the previous column, I discussed parlays. If you bet on a parlay, then several things have to happen for you to win. It is less likely for several things to all occur, then for any one of them to occur. (The technical exception would be if one of the things is certain to occur, then the odds of the other event(s) are unchanged when combined with the certainty in the parlay.)

If you are continuing to approach decisions by thinking about the equity involved, and choosing actions that maximize your equity, you will be making good bets. In this section of this series, I will examine parlays a little more, and put the emphasis on situations where you are on the right side of a parlay. These are spots when you have more than one way to win or your opponent has more than one way to lose.

Here are some common bluffing situations:

- You bet the river with the worst hand on the river.
- You bet the turn with the worst hand, and no outs. If this doesn’t work, you fire a second bullet on the river.
- You go all-in on the turn with the worst hand, and some outs.

The first is a standard bluff. There is no parlay involved. You win if your opponent folds, and you lose if he calls.

The second is similar to a parlay in that you have two ways to win. You might win if your first bluff wins. If it doesn’t, you might win if your second one wins. But in reality it is just two standard bluffs combined sequentially. If you decide to make the second bluff, you must risk more money.

The third is a true parlay. You again have two ways to win. Your opponent might fold. He might call, and then you hit one of your outs. Notice that in the third case, you didn’t have to risk any more money to have both ways of winning. David Sklansky christened this type of play, the semibluff.

The semibluff is a classic case of being on the right side of a parlay. It is one of the strongest plays in poker. There really is no good defense to a semibluff. Your opponent will often have to fold the best hand. Here is a typical case, you have ASpade Suit QSpade Suit and your opponent has KHeart Suit KDiamond Suit. On fourth street, the board is 8Spade Suit 8Heart Suit 5Spade Suit 4Club Suit. What should he do if he checks the turn, and you go all-in?

If you have a full house, a straight, any eight, or aces he has only two outs. If you have quads, he has no outs. He has to be pretty brave to make this call. But even if he does make it, you will still win 25 percent of the time. There are 44 unknown cards, three aces and eight of the nine remaining spades will win for you. You win with 11 of 44 cards or 25 percent of the time. (Note that the KSpade Suit makes his full house.)

For example, if there was 500 in the pot, and you bet 500, now he has to call at least half the time to prevent you from making an immediate profit. This would be the case with any pot-sized bluff. But suppose he calls 60 percent of the time. Perhaps he is a little stubborn or he feels that his check might have induced a bluff or a value bet from a hand he can beat like Q-Q. If you were making an ordinary bluff with no outs, you lose 500 times .6 and win 500 times .4, so you’d lose 100 on the bluff. Your semibluff does much better than that. In this case, you will win 25 percent of the times he calls. There are now three cases. You win 500 times .4 when he folds, and you win 1,000 times .15 when he calls and you hit an out, while only losing 500 times .45 for a net plus of 125.

If you are like a lot of players, you hate all this math. Unfortunately poker, like most gambling games, has a lot of math. I suggest you try to get comfortable with a lot of common situations away from the table. Then you’ll be able to approximate the answers to problems fairly quickly. As an exercise, try to work out how often he has to call to break even. In the next column, I will give you the answer, and explain how I approximated it first. In the meantime keep asking yourself, “am I making a good bet?” And remember the power of having more than one way to win (like the semibluff) and the disadvantage of having more than one way to lose (like the float.) ♠

Steve ZolotowSteve ‘Zee’ Zolotow aka Zebra is a very successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 40 years. With two WSOP bracelets, over 50 cashes, and a few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his Vegas gaming time to poker, and can be found in cash games at Bellagio and at tournaments during the WSOP. When escaping from poker, he spends the spring and the fall in New York City where he hangs out at his bars: Doc Holliday’s, The Library and DBA.