Semi-Bluffing in Texas Holdem Poker – A Guide for Beginners

by Michael Stevens
on May 19, 2017

Most beginning Texas Holdem players bluff too much. They see the pros seemingly bluff all of the time on television and think that it’s the best way to play.

But when they start bluffing at the tables they end up getting called most of the time and losing money. What they don’t know is that on TV they cut out most of the boring hands and that the pros don’t bluff very often.

I always tell beginning holdem players to avoid bluffing as much as possible. You should only consider bluffing when it seems like your opponents aren’t calling your bets when you have a good hand and are betting for value.

But when I give this advice it isn’t meant to include semi bluffs.

A semi bluff is when you bet with a hand that may or may not be the best hand at the time, but has a chance to improve to the best hand.

When you bet or raise it puts pressure on your opponents and forces them to make a decision. Every time an opponent is pressured and is forced to make a decision it creates an opportunity for them to make a mistake.

Every time an opponent makes a mistake it helps you. When you make a semi bluff you can win the hand when your opponents fold or when they call and you end up with the best hand. If you check and call instead of bet and raise the only way you can win the hand is when you show down a hand better than your opponent’s hand.

This combination of aggression, pressure, and forced decision making with a decent hand with a chance to improve is what makes semi bluffing so powerful.

Before I move on I want to make sure you know exactly what a semi bluff is.

Here’s an example:

You see the flop with the king and jack of clubs. The flop has the queen of clubs, ten of spades, and the three of clubs. Four players see the flop and the first one checks to you.

At this point the odds of you having the best hand are small. But you have an open end straight draw, a flush draw, and if a king lands on the turn or river you’ll have top pair. It’s important to realize that if you hit top pair it may give one of your opponents a straight or top pair with a better kicker.

You should bet in this situation every time. It’s a semi bluff, but you have so many draws that even if all of your opponents call you’re in a good position to win a large pot.

Here’s another example:

You raise before the flop with the ace of hearts and the jack of diamonds from late position. The flop has the queen of clubs, jack of spades, and the four of hearts. Your opponents check around to you so you can check for a free card or bet to put pressure on them.

This is another place where you should bet. You may or may not have the best hand with the second pair, but you showed aggression before the flop and if you get called you can improve to a better hand.

Both of these hands show what a semi bluff is and are examples of good places to use one. Continue reading to learn more about when to semi bluff, how to do it, and what to do when you do it and get raised.

When to Semi Bluff

Each Texas holdem game is different. The abilities of your opponents are different, your table image is different, and the most recent hands are different.

All of this means that each situation is unique, so it’s difficult to assign hard and fast rules to when you should semi bluff. But I’m going to give you some tips and general advice to help you learn the best times to do it.

Most semi bluff opportunities come on the flop, but you can find times when one can work on the turn as well.

Here are some of my semi rules for semi bluffing. Remember that none of them are absolute rules because you need to learn how to judge each situation and make the best play.

Semi Rule 1

I tend to semi bluff almost 100% of the time when I raise before the flop and hit any part of the flop. If I think there’s any chance of having the best hand or a chance to improve to the best hand I choose to be aggressive.

This is basically the same as a continuation bet, but in some games I check the flop after raising before the fop if I don’t improve. These games are usually against better competition, but even against weak opponents it can be a good play.

This is especially true if they tend to call almost all of your bets on the flop and you don’t want to build the pot further with your current hand.

Semi Rule 2

I also tend to make a semi bluff close to 100% of the time in an un-raised pot if it’s checked to me after the flop and I hit any part of the flop. Even if I may not have the best hand no one seems interested in showing strength and it’s always better to bet first.

If I bet and get raised then I decide the best way to play the rest of the hand. If I’m particularly weak against a god opponent I might fold, but in many cases it’s worth calling a bet to see the turn.

Semi Rule 3

When an opponent raises before the flop and I hit a strong draw on the flop and they bet into me I may make a semi bluff to try to see where I am in the hand. If I raise and get re-raised it’s a strong indication that I’m behind.

But if I raise and just get called it shows weakness from my opponent. You need to be careful in these situations because a really good player may flat call the raise to try t get you to bet on the turn and then make a big move.

I don’t know the actual percentages, but I probably make this play somewhere between 10 and 20% of the time. It depends a great deal on my opponent and what I know about them, and I won’t do it often against a strong player.

A weak player is much more likely to make a weak call here, so I may try to take advantage of them, especially if I think I can make an all in move later in the hand to bluff them off their hand. This really isn’t a beginner play so use extra caution in this situation.

Semi Rule 4

If many people see the flop without a raise and I have position and the flop is checked to me I usually make a semi bluff. Never do this when you miss the flop and don’t have good position.

You can use a strong position to win a hand where no one hits a good hand or strong draw on the flop. But if the game is filled with calling stations this isn’t a good play. Believe it or not, this play works best when you’re facing better players.

But if they figure out you do this too often they’ll start calling or raising when you do it and it costs you money.

Semi Rule 5

On the turn it’s more difficult to get some players to fold, but if it looks like your opponent is on a flush draw and misses on the turn you can make an over sized  bet to make the pot odds wrong for the to see the river.

Weak players tend to call to see the river no matter what, so try to only make this play when there’s a good chance your opponent will fold.

How to Semi Bluff

When you make a semi bluff the size of your bet is important. If you’re playing limit Texas holdem you can’t control the size of your bet, but in no limit play you can size your bet for maximum pressure and advantage.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but against good players a small bet often works as well as a large one unless you need them to see that the pot odds are wrong. Against weaker players never assume they even know what pot odds are or how to use them.

A larger bet tends to work better against weak players who don’t have a strong hand. But a weak player with a flush draw may call off their entire stack to try to hit the flush, so you need to try to recognize when this is a possibility.

You can still make a semi bluff against a weak payer drawing to a flush, but you need to have a made hand that stands a good chance to win when they don’t hit the flush.

When you raise before the flop and make a bet on the flop you should make all of your continuation bets, made hand bets, and semi bluffs roughly the same size. This way your opponents can’t tell what kind of hand you have by the size of your bet.

A bet of close to half the size of the pot is a good standard bet in this situation. So if the pot has $100 in it bet around $50. A bet of $40 to $60 is usually fine, as long as you stay close to half the pot.

Some aggressive players like to bet the size of the pot in these situations but against better players this will cost you money in the long run.

The key is making your semi bluffs look the same as the bets you make when you’re trying to build the pot.  Too many beginning players try to get fancy with their bet sizing and make mistakes that give away the strength of their hand.

If your opponents can’t tell the difference between when you’re building the pot with a strong hand and when you’re bluffing it gives you an advantage.

You should make more semi bluffs from late position than from early position. When you play in late position you have the advantage of knowing what your opponents do on each round of betting before you have to act.

This is such a strong advantage that semi bluffs always work better when you have position. Starting in early position you can make more semi bluffs in each position as you go around to late position.

With a hand that you semi bluff with 50% of the time you might only do it 10% of the time in early position and 90% of the time from late position.

As a beginning player you should try to play in games against weak opponents, but if you’re playing at a table with many good players you may be able to semi bluff slightly more from early position. Good players respect and understand position and when you bet from early position it’s a strong show of strength.

But if they catch you betting from early position with a weak hand you shouldn’t do it again for a long time.

What To Do When You Get Re-Raised

When you make a semi bluff and get raised you need to immediately forget about any kind of bluff and start looking at the pot odds and your chance to win the hand. A semi bluff shows strength and when an opponent raises it shows that they either think their hand is better or that you’re weak.

If you have a strong draw you may be getting the correct pot odds to make a call, but if you’re weak the best play is usually to fold.

The first example I gave in the introduction of the hand with a flush draw and open end straight draw is the type of hand that you can consider re-raising with when you get a semi bluff raised. But you probably need to be willing to play for your entire stack in this situation.

And any time you’re willing to play for your entire stack and an opponent shows aggression it’s always better to be the one that pushes all in. In this example if you continue with the hand after being re-raised you should usually just move all in.

When you get called you’re probably going to need to hit your draw to win, but many times the all in move will force your opponent to fold and you can win the pot immediately.

When you’re in doubt with a weak hand and / or draw the best play is to fold. Remember that you still have to play the turn and river, so you may be forced to invest a great deal more money to get to the show down at the end.

I don’t like to call a re-raise of my semi bluff; preferring to either fold or raise in most situations. But if the pot odds are correct for a call I do call occasionally.

It’s very important to learn as much about your opponents as possible as quickly as possible so you can use the information in these situations. Try to avoid semi bluffing too much against good players because they may be able to pick up on what you’re doing easier and turn the tables on you.

Conclusion

Learning how to use a semi bluff effectively can quickly improve your Texas holdem game. Use the advice included on this page and you can become a semi bluff master in no time.

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