Semi-bluff a beautiful two-way poker winner

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The beauty of the semi-bluff is you can win that pot two ways: (1) After your bluff-bet or raise, your opponent might muck his holecards, leaving the pot to you; or (2) you could catch the best hand and win the pot at the showdown. But, the situation has to be “right” for an effective semi-bluff.

It is best to semi-bluff when you have a reasonably good drawing hand and the board is not dangerous. For example, it would be foolhardy to try to semi-bluff after a flop of three cards of the same suit, or three cards in sequence, or two honor cards.

Chances are those flops would have hit one of your opponents; in that case, your semi-bluff is hardly likely to be effective, and his hand might dominate yours. Needless to say, we never want to try to bluff out a calling-station; once he has invested in the pot, he’s bound to call all the way to the showdown.

A talented poker celebrity recently wrote a column, published in the Sunday edition of the L.A. Times: “Bluff-raise is a proven winner.” In a $2-$5 no-limit game in Las Vegas, an opponent limped into the hand; then another player in a late position raised it to $20. Our hero called from the button with Kd-Qh. (Hero didn’t say, but I suspect he wanted to see the flop in case an Ace falls.) The blinds folded.

The flop came down Jd-6c-2h. The limper checked, and the preflop raiser bet $30 – a continuation-wager. Thereupon, Hero raised it to $90 – and both opponents promptly folded. So he took the pot!

“That’s the play,” Hero writes. “You bluff-raise the preflop raiser’s flop bet.” Hero then presents some probabilities based on his assumptions, to suggest the odds – pot vs. card – are in your favor. Hero then adds that the flop is critical to success when using this strategy.

In this case, a flop of Jd-6c-2h is hard to hit. “Without at least top pair (J-J in this case), it’s fair to assume most $2-$5 players in Las Vegas (and elsewhere, I dare say) will fold to a raise.” In closing, Hero adds, “if the assumptions hold (they often do), and the flop is right, this play can help you to win a lot of easy money.”

This is a great strategy. I am anxious to give it “a shot” the next time I go to the casino. But, perhaps because I am more conservative than our hero, I would stipulate the flop must leave me with at least six outs. That would be the case if I held two overcards in the hole – as in this case.

This is especially important in a limit game, where the size of the raise is severely limited. Again, use the Esther Bluff whenever bluffing or semi-bluffing – to help convince your opponents to fold their “inferior” hands.

Without overcards, I would hesitate to raise on the flop. I would look for tells and also consider the type of player my opponent is. For example, I would respect his continuation-bet if he were a tight player, and call only if the implied pot odds were attractive. On the other hand, if he were a loose-aggressive player, I would consider making the raise as a semi-bluff.

Of course, if I should be so lucky as to hit trips (odds are over 400-to-1 against it) or better on the flop, I would consider slow-playing my hand so as not to force out opponents who could help me build the pot I expect to win with three-of-a-kind, a big straight or a flush (if my holecards were suited).

In a no-limit game, if an opponent bets out before me and is called, depending on the type of players they are, I would raise small enough to make the pot odds appear attractive to them. Had I been in an early/middle position, I would plan to use the check-raise on the turn or on the river.

Do you agree?

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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