Chapter 28: Semibluffs in Online Poker

The semibluff is an amazing move that will be a key element of your game in the aggressive games of 6-max no-limit hold ‘em.  A semibluff is a bet or raise by a hand that figures to not be the best hand but can improve to be the best hand and that can also win the pot by folding a better hand.

Semibluffs are everywhere.  Every time you bet a flush draw, you’re semibluffing.  Every time you raise a gutshot, you’re semibluffing.  Even when you continuation bet AK on a low board, you are semibluffing since if you are called you rarely have the best hand but can improve to the best hand.

Your opponents are using semibluffs all the time against you.  That’s why when we’re facing an all-in with an overpair on the flop, we’re much more likely to call if there is a flush draw or open-ended straight draw possible since we are ahead of more hands in our opponent’s range.

Before I give you guidelines on how and when to use the semibluff, let me show you some math so you can see just how powerful a semibluff can be.

Let’s say we’re playing $2/$4 on Full Tilt.  The game has a few good regulars at the table.  It’s become a very aggressive game with a lot of 3-bets preflop.

I open Ts9s on the button to $14.  The BB, whose stats are 22/18/3 and one of the more aggressive TAGs in the game, makes it $48.  Even though my hand is only a decent one and we’re only 100 BB’s deep, I make the call because his range is so wide that I plan on semibluffing a large amount of flops.

The flop is Js3s5h.  The BB bets $75 into me.  I shove in the rest of my stack ($352).  If I win the pot right now I will win $173, a pretty good pot.  To call me, I think my opponent will need to QJ or better to call.  It’s also possible I could get called by a hand like AsKs or As5s and be in pretty bad shape.

My exact range for him calling is: QJ, KJ, AJ, QQ, KK, AA, JJ, 55, 33, AsKs, AsQs, As5s.  This is a little bit of a wide range for him since it’s possible he would not 3-bet 55, 33, As5s and QJ.

If I get called by this range, I have a 35% chance to win by hitting my flush.  Sometimes I will win by making two pair or better by the river, also.

I believe my opponent is 3-betting 15% of his hands in this spot.  He will have a hand to call 6.3% of the time.

Thus, 42%[1] of the time I am putting in $352 with a 35% chance to win.  I am winning $173 about 58% of the time.  It should be noted that this 58% is what we call fold equity, or the amount of times we think our opponent will fold to our semibluff.

Our expectation when called is -$71.30 [2].

Our expectation when not called is $173.

Since we are only getting called 42% of the time, our total expectation and profit on this play in the long run is $70.39 [3].  That’s huge!

This math is certainly confusing and I’m not going to lie; I needed help from a math-savvy poker buddy to get this all correct.  In no way do you really need to understand all these numbers.  Just understand that the semibluff is a very powerful move in poker that will win you a lot of money when used correctly.

Using the semibluff

You are going to using the semibluff often.  As you saw in the previous example, when you are against aggressive players and you start calling a wider range of their 3-bets, it’s important to raise or shove any good draw (which I consider to be one with 8 outs or more).

The semibluff helps you be more unpredictable to opponents.  If you only ever raised with good, made hands, your opponent could fold all his hands except for his best ones.  If you raise with all your good draws, however, he’ll have to call you down lighter and you’ll start getting those sets paid off.

Be more apt to semibluff “good” draws.  Semibluff more with bigger draws.  These are draws like flush draws, open-ended straight draws, double gutshots[4] and combo draws (flush + straight draws, pair + straight draws, etc).  You can semibluff hands like gutshots and overcards but they will be more situational.  Combo draws are EXCELLENT hands. KhQh on a JhTh4c flop is 42% to win even against top set.  Try to get combo draws all-in whenever possible.

Be more apt to semibluff tighter players.  Since tight players can fold decent hands, I’m making more of my semibluffs against them.  You simply have more fold equity on average against a tighter player.  Against loose and passive fish, I’m more apt to just call when they bet and I have a good draw.  You have much less fold equity against them.  Also, an advantage to just calling against fish is to also keep them in the pot for when you actually hit the hand.  You’ll win a big pot.  Just calling a draw against a tight player isn’t as good because they will often fold when you hit your hand.

Be more apt to semibluff when you can get all-in.  Semibluffs work better when you can shove all-in and not have to worry about playing a turn or river with more money left behind.  Our fold equity is usually greatest when we make an all-in move as well.  By semibluffing and not being able to commit yourself by pot odds to your draw or by not being able to get all-in you can cause situations where your opponent will go all-in and you will have to fold your good draw.  Be sure to brush up on the math, however.  Folding a good draw when you have pot odds to suck out is very bad.


At $1/$2, you raise preflop to $6 with 9s7s.  The BB, a LAG, calls.  The flop is TsJs3c.  The BB checks, you bet $12 and the BB check-raises to $40.  You should shove here 100% of the time.

At $5/$10, the SB, a very aggressive TAG, opens to $35.  You call in the BB with 7s6s.  The flop is 5s4c2s.  The TAG bets $60.  You semibluff to $180.  The TAG shoves in $785 more.  Even though it’s a huge raise, you call because your draw is so big (15 outs [5]) that you have odds to call.

At $.25/$.50, UTG, UTG+1, the button and the SB limp.  They are all fishy players.  You check 5c4s in the BB.  The flop is Jc3h2s.  SB checks.  You should bet the pot as a semibluff.  Even though you won’t take this pot down that many times, you have an excellent 8-out draw to the nuts against very bad players and it’s worth it to start building the pot for when you do hit your straight.  It’s important to not semibluff the turn if called, however, and to check-call.  Once a fish calls a flop like this, he is seldom folding to a turn bet.

When not to semibluff

There are situations where you have a good draw but semibluffing will create a more awkward situation than calling.

I’d be less apt to semibluff when a very tight player has check-raised me or raised my continuation bet when I’m in a position where I generally have a strong hand.  For example, if I raise UTG or UTG+1 with JhTh and a nitty TAG calls sitting directly on my left, I know he almost always has a pair.  When I get raised on a 9s8c5d flop by him, my best play is to call and try to hit on the turn.  I know I have no fold equity against him because he always has a very good hand here.  By semibluffing all I am doing is putting my money in with 8-outs against a strong hand.

This is all circumstantial and a semibluff with 8 or more outs can never be that bad of a play.  I really hate semibluffing with an 8-out draw when I get reraised by my opponent and I have to fold.  I also don’t like semibluffing an 8-out draw when I’m out of position against a fish who has just bet and he is not known to fold.  It’s much better to call and try to hit against an opponent like that.

I generally avoid semibluffs with weaker hands like gutshots and overcards when I will have to push in my entire stack to do so (such as in the 9s7s example against the LAG).  If the flop was Ts6h3d, anything but folding is bad.  There are circumstances when I will do this, however it usually requires me to be in a very aggressive game against opponents who are playing too aggressive against me.  For example, in the Ts9s hand, if the flop had been 8s6c3h, a semibluff there is OK because there’s a good enough chance he can’t call and we need to slow down his aggression.  Part of the reason to push a gutshot like this is for metagame and image, described in later chapters.

[1] 6.3/15 = .42, or 42% we’re getting called

[2] (.35(450) + (-352)(.65)) = +$157.50 + (-)$228.8 = -$71.30

[3] .58(173) + .42((-)71.30 ) = 100.34 + (-29.94) = $70.39

[4] A double-inside straight draw.  Essentially, it is two gutshots in one hand.  It is a very deceptive hand.  For example, holding 75 on a 6 9 3 board is a double gutshot; an 8 and a 4 give you a straight.

[5] Notice how having an 8-out straight draw and a flush draw does not mean you have 17 outs.  You only have 15 outs as 2 of the cards that make you a straight also make you a flush.


Are you looking for more information on semibluffs? The best way to become an expert is from online poker training sites such as Deuces Cracked. They’ve helped improve my game tremendously. Check them out by clicking here.

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09. August 2012 by Skilled Online Poker
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