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Poker Strategy with Full Tilt Poker's Chris Ferguson: When to Semi-Bluff

Chris Ferguson

Team Full Tilt Pro Chris Ferguson explains the difference between a bluff and a semi-bluff and demonstrates the principle with a hand he played at Full Tilt Poker.

I see a lot of players these days bluff-raise with absolute air with no chance to win the pot. When I bluff-raise, I like to have some kind of draw, some kind of chance to win if I’m called. My bluff-raises tend to be much more of a semi-bluff raise. Now, the question is: when should you semi-bluff?

You should semi-bluff when you have a good chance of the opponent folding a better hand. If he’s not folding hands that beat yours, it’s not a bluff. You don’t necessarily need to bet because you could beat these hands anyway. The other ingredient is that you have to do reasonably well against the hands he’s going to call you with. So, first you can get him to fold, and second, even if he calls, there’s a chance that you’ll actually win the pot – a huge pot.

Here’s a hand where I semi-bluffed rereaised: 9 handed, $1/$2 no-limit hold’em, UTG+3, effective stacks 80BB.

I had the {7-Clubs}{8-Clubs}. It’s folded to me and I put in a small raise. Not a very strong hand here, and I wouldn’t always do this, but I think it’s important to occasionally play a hand like this in early middle position. I make it two times the big blind, and it’s folded around to the big blind who calls.

Now he could have pretty much anything. I put in a min-raise and a lot of players will call here with a reasonably wide range of hands. But a big advantage I have is the advantage of position and having raised before the flop, so I’m representing a much stronger hand than I have.

Flop comes {9-Clubs}{10-Diamonds}{3-Diamonds} – I have a decent draw here. It is to the ignorant end of the straight (if a jack comes, maybe he has king-queen and I’m in trouble), but it’s still an open-ended straight draw, which is actually a reasonably powerful hand.

He checks it to me, and the obviously play is to bet. You’re really supposed to be when you’re the aggressor before the flop, and this is a clear case where the right play is to bet. So I bet $5, and my opponent makes it $19. A lot of people might consider folding this hand, but I really don’t like folding this hand, and I don’t really like calling here either because it’s kind of a weak hand.

So I put in a semi-bluff reraise, I make it $49. I really want to put pressure on my opponent. I have an open-ended straight draw and I do well against his range of hands – even if he has a set, I have eight outs.

So I have eight outs against a lot of his hands and I think I can get him to fold a lot here. If he has a nine, I can probably get him to fold that – maybe some of his tens. And if he’s really got a monster, I’ve still got eight outs.
So this hand turned out well. I semi-bluff reraised and won the pot there on the flop.

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