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Semi-Bluffing

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Article has been taken from PokeriInfo website with their permission.

Semi-bluffing, originally launched by the number-one poker theoretician David Sklansky, is one of the strongest tactical concepts in winning poker strategy. A semi-bluff includes two components: the bluff and the hand value. In other words, by semi-bluffing, the pot can be won immediately (the bluff) or later, if the hand has improved to the best hand (the value). These two factors together make semi-bluffing profitable. If there is no bluffing component, as in loose games, semi-bluffing is not possible. The hand should be played only according to its value. Calling is not semi-bluffing, either. If you intend to semi-bluff when one of the opponents has bet, you have to raise. Furthermore, when all the cards are out on the river, you can bluff or play the hand according to its value, but not semi-bluff, because your hand can't improve any more.

A semi-bluff can win the pot immediately or provide 4 important advantages later on:

1. The opponents don't get a free card. Checking and giving a free card can be disastrous although the table looks harmless. For example, if an opponent has 8d -9d  and the flop brings
Ad -7h -2s , the hand is worthless at that moment, but 10 cards can give a flush draw, 16 cards a straight draw and 6 cards a pair with the pocket cards. Summed up, 28 cards make something.
  
2. You can take a free card yourself. According to the basic winning strategy drawing hands should be played as cheaply as possible, that is to say, checking and calling. Though not always. From the last position it can be advantageous to bet or raise, because it is usually the most inexpensive play. On the next betting round the opponents usually check to the bettor or raiser and you can take a free card, if you need to.
  
3. Misleading opponents. Usually, betting or raising is an expression of a strong completed hand. Semi-bluffing with drawing hands can be very profitable, because the opponents usually misread your hand later on.
  
4. Providing information. If you bet and get raised, especially check-raised from early position, it is generally a sign of a strong hand. If your bet was a semi-bluff, you can now fold and lose just one bet. Checking and calling would not have provided this information and you might have played the hand to the showdown and lost four more bets.  
 
Strong Semi-Bluffs

Like bluffing, semi-bluffing is most effective in no-limit games and in the final rounds of tournaments. In tournaments, the games become tight and cautious just in front the gate to paradise. Nobody likes to be overthrown just before the prize money is dealt out. Threat as an aggressive semi-bluff is then a strong tactical weapon. If your hand is worth calling, it is also worth betting as a semi-bluff, because the opponents can fold. On the other hand, if they don't fold, betting is not more expensive, because someone might have bet anyway and calling has the same price tag. By just checking, you lose all the extra benefits a semi-bluff will afford: to win the pot immediately, control the game on the coming betting rounds, hiding your strength, and getting information.

One good opportunity for a semi-bluff appears when the flop is suited. Suppose you are in the blind with Ad -3c  in the pocket and the flop brings Kd -7d -2d . Bet, because the bluff can succeed, if nobody has a flush. If someone has one, he won't dare to raise, since the ace is out. Therefore, betting doesn't cost more than checking and calling. Just the opposite, it gives more value for the money in form of the advantages semi-bluffing provides. In loose games, betting on a draw can be mathematically correct, too. In the above-mentioned example, betting is profitable even without the bluffing component, if five players are supposed to call.
 
Another common opportunity for a semi-bluff comes with a second pair and a decent kicker, e.g.
Ac -7h  and the flop is 9s -7c -2h , three opponents, the bet is 1 unit and the pot is 4 units. The pot odds permit betting only as a semi-bluff. The bluff can succeed, because there are no draws (T-8 and 8-6 are not playable starting hands, and the pot odds don't allow an inside straight draw), and a 9 is not a common starting card. If there will be callers, the hand can improve later on and make the best hand (two pair or trips).

 
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