The Problems of Defending Against the Semi-Bluff

To demonstrate the problems of defending against the semi-bluff, let's take a seven-card stud hand from our explanation of semi-bluffing :



Let's say you bet on fourth street and your rival raises. If you know your rival is eligible of semi-bluffing with something like a pair of 7s in the hole, possibly you should not call with a pair of 9s. In fact, he might have queens or jacks. Or he may be semi-bluffing with a four flush. The difficulty is that your pair of 9s is no favorite over a four-flush with a jack and a queen. However, if your rival has a pair of jacks, a pair of queens, or two pair, you may lose as he has already beaten you; and if he has a four-flush, you may lose because he outdraws you (which with his overcards as well, he's a favorite to do).

Even if your rival has nothing better than a gut-shot straight draw, your two 9s with a king kicker are not a hand to be appreciated about. Frequently if you doubt your rival is semi-bluffing, it won't do much good to call with a poor hand because there are two ways for you to lose: Either you lose to a legal hand or by being outdrawn.

Suppose you gnash your teeth, close your eyes, and call your rival bet. The dealer hits on the table and deals the next card:



What would you do now? The nine of spades is very scary looking card that your rival is holding. It might have made your rival a flush. It might have made him a straight. If that didn't help him, he would possibly bet on fourth street with jacks or queens so that he has a pair and at least a three-flush may be a four-flush. The thing for you to do is check and when your rival bets, as definitely he will, you will give away your hand, perhaps cursing the poker gods for rendering the 9 to your rival instead of you. So this is third way a semi-bluffer can beat you that is by catching scare cards that force you to fold.

(If you have forgotten the exact hand from the last chapter, all your rival has in the hole is 7 7. It is incorrect to fold if you know at this point with two 9s and an ace, king kicker. Your rival's semi-bluff on fourth street , followed by his semi-bluff on fifth street , caused you to make a mistake, according to the Fundamental Theorem of Poker in opposite to what you had done if you can see your rival's hand. You lost and your rival has gained. Thus, without knowing what your rival had, you made a sensible hand.)

The Semi-Bluff Raise as a Defense Against the Semi-Bluff

While the argument described shows the problems of defending against the semi-bluff, it also illustrates one of the best defensive counter stratagems against it - the semi-bluff raise. Note, when you bet into a Q J with a pair of 9s in the hole and showing K, 5 you are semi-bluffing yourself. You try to show kings in an expectation that your rival would fold with a pair of queens, a pair of jacks, or a worse hand. It comes out that your rival has a worse hand a pair of 7s and a three flush. But instead of folding what he did? He raised. He made a semi-bluff raise into a probable pair of kings with a three-flush and a small pair. In fact, if he actually has two kings, he would be in danger. But as you were semi-bluffing yourself, since your rival doubted, his semi-bluff raise turned tables on you. It made you on the defensive and him in the driver's seat.

To clarify the outcome of this type of play poker , let's talk about stealing the antes. Stealing antes is one type of semi-bluff. A player raises instantly showing a strong hand, and makes it too expensive, given the size of the pot, for an average hand to continue. A simple example can be given from seven-card razz, where the high card has to make a small bet to start the action and a low card normally raises.

Suppose I am having low card showing, with a second low card and a king in the hole. One player behind me also has low card showing. With a two-card low, I do not have a legal hand, but nonetheless, I'm in a gainful semi-bluffing situation because I doubt if I raise, one of two things can happen. A low card may fold behind me, in that case I win the antes instantly as the high cards will also fold. Or the low card may call, in that case I'm in danger.

However, everything is not lost because my bet was not a pure bluff but a semi-bluff. I may have a chance to win if I catch a little card on the next round and my rival catches a big card.

If I bet at that time, my rival will fold. If he calls, we both possibly have three-card lows, so I cannot be much of an underdog. I still can make the best low hand and win in the showdown.

When you semi-bluff, you seem to win in one of the three ways - first by making your rival fold, second by catching scare card on the next round to make them fold, third by drawing out on them and producing the best hand in the showdown. This mixture of possibilities makes you the favorite when you raise.

However, instead of calling my raise what will happen if that low card behind me re-raises? Immediately, my semi-bluff will be ruined.

In such situations, when you re-raise a possible semi-bluff, your rival is forced to fold when you have caught him without a legal hand. For example, in seven-card stud a poker player having

can raise against a jack trying to steal the antes. Even if the jack calls, the semi-bluffer can catch an ace or a king on the next card, giving him the best hand against two jacks, or he may catch a scare card such as queen suited with the king. Thus, you should re-raise with mediocre hand like two jacks. If the king is semi-bluffing and does not have two jacks beat, you are forcing him to fold or call with the worst hand. Definitely, we can take this situation a step further. The original semi-bluffer can make a semi-bluff re-raise if he thinks there is fair chance, the pair of jacks will give up and fold.

Suppose that in none of these examples is a simple call any type of defense when you doubt you are up against a possible semi-bluff. Do not say to yourself that this may be a semi-bluff, and I may have the best hand. And so I will call. When you call, you are in difficulty that your rival may make the best reading poker hand if he does not had it already, or he may look like he's made it. However, when you raise, you can take these two possibilities. First, the rival will call - or re-raise - with a legal hand but he will probably fold if he was really semi-bluffing. Even if he does call, it is with the worse hand. Another benefit to your raise is that it will prevent your rival from semi-bluffing against you in the future and another is that you get more money in the pot when a rival calls with a worse hand.

To recap, when you doubt a rival may be semi-bluffing, you have to fold most of your hands - like that pair of 9s previous in the chapter. However, when you have a hand that is worth a call, you should raise in most of the cases. This is one of the situations in poker where, when the best play is not to fold, to raise, and to call is the worst of the three alternatives.

There is a situation that recurrently comes up in hold 'em that calls for a semi-bluff raise. You are in last position and you have something like

a good reasonable starting hand. Consequently, the player to your right raises, and you doubt he is using his last position to try to steal the antes. As your hand is so good to fold, you must re-raise. You must not give the first raiser the extra double chance of winning on a semi-bluff. Similarly, as seen in last earlier, if you are the last low card in razz and the next-to-last low card raises, probable as a semi-bluff, you cannot call with a mediocre hand and give your rival two extra methods of winning. Even with an average hand as

you should re-raise to make the online poker player fold or make him pay with his deprived hands.

You gain another benefit when you make such kind of response. You do not want to have a rival semi-bluffing with a correct frequency. By taking his semi-bluffs, you reduce the times he will try it on those occasions when he ought to. Your re-raise has made him think twice about semi-bluffing in the future. (Look Chapter Eighteen and Nineteen)