Defense against the Semi-Bluff

The Strength of the Semi-Bluff

Suppose you are playing seven-card stud. On fifth street your rival bets when you have a pair of jacks. You know he has a big hand. Therefore, it is easy for you to respond. You will fold. If you come to know that your rival is bluffing with nothing. Again, it is easy to respond. You will raise. Suppose he has beat you with two small pair, but you are getting enough pot odds for a call. Hence, you call.

Straightforward bets, straightforward responses

What if your rival is not straightforward, then? What if he is that player who can bet with a legal hand but at the same time can also semi-bluff? Obviously, he might not semi-bluff always. It would again be easy to respond, because if the rival is semi-bluffing when he bets, you can raise with anything, and so he will possibly fold. The difficulty arises when you think a rival may be semi-bluffing but not sure that he has not having a legal hand. If he is not having a legal hand now, he may get it later or he may look like he has got it later.

There are not many defenses against the semi-bluff that is why it is such a strong play. Commonly, the best play against a probable semi-bluff is to fold, especially when the pot is small. Fine, your rival has beaten you. He can also make you to give away the best hand. But, if you call his bet, he has three other methods of beating you. He may have had the best hand when he bet. He may have been semi-bluffing, but he may outdraw you. Or he may have been semi-bluffing, but he may catch scare cards that force you to fold. However, since you have given away what was the best hand at the moment, your rival still has many ways of beating you to justify your calling his bet.

If you think you have the best hand, it is correct to fold. Suppose you think it's a less better than even money that your rival is semi-bluffing. To put with ease, you may think there is 52 percent chance he's semi-bluffing and 48 percent chance he has good hand. If he is semi-bluffing, you figure you're a 6-to-5 favorite to beat him. On the contrary, if he is not semi-bluffing and has the hand that he represents, you are almost locked out. Therefore, you are favorite to win 52 percent of the time. Will you call his bet? Many experts and professional make a mistake of calling in such conditions, but unless the pot is large, the correct play is to fold.

Let's do it arithmetically. You automatically lose 48 percent of the time. And the remaining 52 percent of the time, you will win an average of six out of 11 hands (as you figure to be 6-to-5 favorite). On the other hand, you will nearly lose half of the time when you are a bit favorite and almost all the time when you are a big underdog. Only 29 percent of the time in all, you tend to win the hand. To call the bet, you would at least need to get 7-to-3 effective odds from pot, which is not likely in early round of betting. Therefore, the correct play poker would actually be to fold.