Pure Bluffs and Semi-Bluffs

A bet, which has no chance of winning in the showdown, is a pure bluff. A bet with more cards to come, which is possibly not the best hand at the moment but has a sufficient chance to become the best hand is a semi-bluff.

Most of the top players think that their bluffs should have negative expectation. They look them as a type of advertising that may lead to being called on other occasion when you do have the best hand. However, pure bluffs should have no worse than zero expectation, as it will be explained more in detail in later chapter. At the same time, bluffs are an important part of a player's game. If you do not bluff, your rival will come to know you are having reasonable hand when you bet. They will play correctly on the basis of what you have in your hand, which is to their advantage and disadvantage, according to the Fundamental Theorem of Poker.

As it is right to bluff occasionally so that you do not give away any information when you have a reasonable hand, but the question arise when to do it. Precisely, you cannot develop a regular outline of bluffing. Observant rival picks it up, and you will be caught bluffing often to make it profitable.

Trying to think when to bluff against hard players, just use your cards to randomize your play. (Look Chapter Nineteen, "Bluffing and Game Theory.") With more cards to come in early betting round, the most suitable and beneficial method to use your cards is to bluff when you have the type of semi-bluff hands that have been discussing. When you bluff occasionally, you get all the advertising you need, but you even have certain advantage of winning sometimes when you get caught.

There are various situations where a pure bluff would not work to be gainful, but where a semi-bluff is more gainful than a checking and with hope to draw out and win in the showdown. For example, you are playing $10- $20 hold'em poker. You may not win when your hand has fallen apart after six cards. There is $60 in the pot with one more card to come. Therefore, if you bet $20 as a pure bluff against one rival, you get 3-to-1 for your bet when he folds. The main question is that whether the rival will fold to make a bluff gainful in terms of pot odds you get. Suppose you guess he will fold 30 percent of the time. That means he'll call four times out of five and will fold only once. Hence, the odds against getting away with a bluff are 4-to-1, whereas you get $60-to-$20 or 3-to-1 odds when you bet. Thus, the play has negative expectation. It is un beneficial in the long run. (This assumes to give away your bluff when you are called and not to bet at the end.)

Instead of a monster hand with one more card to come, suppose you are holding a hand that evaluate a 30 percent chance of winding up the winner- say, a four- flush and a small pair. Again there is $60 in the pot and you think you have a 20 percent chance of stealing that $60 if you bet against one rival. One can imagine that the semi-bluff bet now turns out to be a gainful play. Quite true, it is more gainful than to check and hope to win in the showdown.

To absolutely clear out this point, we can do some calculations. Let's assume that if you check after six cards, your rival will check after you and let's ignore bets on the end presuming that you will fold when you are not making your hand and your rival will fold when you do make a hand. We can take 100 similar situations where you can check and hope to draw out and 100 situations where you make a semi-bluff bet.

First let's take checking or raising in poker game. There is $60 in the pot and a 30 percent chance of winning; you will average winning $60 30 times for a sum of $1800.

When you bet what will happen? As your semi-bluff has only 20 percent chance to make your rival fold, you will average win $60 instantly 20 out of the 100 times you attempt for a sum of $1200. Of the 80 times your rival calls your bet, you will average winning $80 (the $60 in the pot plus the $20 called) 30 percent of the time and losing your $20 bet 70 percent of the time. That figures to $80 win 24 times and $20 loss 56 times for a win of $800. Therefore, after 100 similar situations, you will average win $1200 when your rival folds, plus $800 when he calls for a sum of $2000, which is $200 more than you would win by checking. It is $2 per hand, but this is the small surface where you can increase your hourly rate and your gains at the end of the month and the year.

From the above example, the significant thing to note is that a pure bluff by itself and a value bet by itself both could be wrong. Betting as a pure bluff, you will get 3-to-1 odds for a wager who has only one chance in five of a win. Betting only for a value - that is with an assurance your rival will call - you can make an incorrect play as you have calculated that you are a 7-to-3 underdog. You are risking money (your $20 bet for a $20 call) when the odds are 2 1/3- to-1 against your win. But the combination of the two probabilities - mainly winning with a bluff or winning by improving to the best hand - makes a semi-bluff bet not a good play; but an obligatory one.

Semi-bluff bet can be gainful and so as semi-bluff raise. For example you start with

And the flop comes

Everyone checks. The next card is the

That gives you a flush draw and an inside-straight draw (not to remark a straight-flush draw). Now if someone bets, you should raise. Even if he folds 20 percent of the time, the combined probabilities of winning right there and to make a best hand when he calls turns raise in this spot in a more gainful play than by just calling. However, when there are probabilities of winning the hand, even little, it is vital to bet - or raise. When you think sometimes that you are semi-bluffing, you are actually betting the best hand.

The size of the pot decides when to semi-bluff. The larger the pot, the greater the pot odds you get, the smaller your chances of getting away with a semi-bluff needs to make the play beneficial. Game theory considers it contradictory - that with larger pot, you should bluff less, assuming expert rivals. Thus, many of the players do not regulate their calling strategy correctly to the size of the pot making both semi-bluffs and pure bluffs more gainful when the pot is large.

When Not to Semi-Bluff

As seen, a semi-bluff can be gainful because sometimes it figures as a bluff (when the rival folds the best hand) and sometimes improving the best hand (when your rival calls). It is the combination of these situations; which makes the semi-bluff gainful. Hence, it is vital to comprehend that you normally do not semi-bluff if it is certain you are going to be called. Why? Because the bluff concept of your bet has disappear, you are betting only for value and it is precisely Incorrect to put more money in the pot on a hand you know to be an underdog. The exception to this precept happens only in seven card stud and razz, as saw earlier, when your semi-bluff perplexes your rival on future rounds since he has watched your board develop into what looks like the best hand.

It is a good plan to semi-bluff when you are last to act, especially, if many players have checked ahead of you. Not only you have the chance to give yourself a free card in last position but also it can happen that somebody ahead of you was sandbagging with a big hand and will check-raise when you bet. On the contrary, when you are in first position, you would tend to bet with semi-bluffing hand. As you are not sure yourself of a free card in first position, you may become invader and bet when the situation comes up.


Let's summarize semi bluff point wise.

• A semi-bluff is a bet, raise, or check-raise with a large variety of hands which you do not think to be the best at the moment. But, they may win not only when your rival folds but also in a showdown when improving to the best hand. They can also win on a future round when your rival folds after you catch a rare card that makes your hand look like the best hand.

• A semi-bluff can be used only with more cards to come and can be used in any game.

• A hand; which you think you are semi-bluffing can really be a best hand. By betting, you avoid a worse hand from getting a free card.

• If you have a hand that gives a call when your rival bets, it is generally correct to bet yourself, mainly in first position. Thereafter, you gain the chance of winning the pot instantly, and you show more strength than you actually have, which is later beneficial for you.

• Semi-bluffs makes you bettor instead of the caller, which always puts you in more advantageous position.

• Semi-bluffs are a good method to randomize your bluffs, for you have the added equity of a possible wins even when you are called.

• A semi-bluff can consequently be a gainful play in situations where a pure bluff is not. Your extra out of outdrawing your rival can make your mathematical expectation from the negative to the positive side.

• You normally do not semi-bluff when you are certain your rival will call. On the other hand, if there is a possibility that your rival will fold, you should bet- or raise- with a semi-bluffing hand, especially when the pot grows larger.

• When you are in first position, it is better to make semi-bluff bet, but when you are last, you have a chance of giving yourself a free card and you do not want to risk the chance of a rival check-raising you.