Issue 146
June 30 - July 6, 2003
Volume 3
page 3
Happy Independence Day!

A Well-Placed Semi-Bluff Wins a Big 7-Stud Pot
By Fred Renzey

Many people who are only casually familiar with poker assume that bluffing is the key to winning. This impression has been falsely instilled in their minds by dramatic bluffing scenes in Hollywood movies about poker. In reality, to win at poker you simply need to "have the goods" about 95% of the time. A habitual outright bluffer will usually be the first player to go broke in a real poker game because somebody will generally call him down.

There is however, a blood relative of "outright bluffing" that does play a critical role in winning at poker. That relative is the "semi-bluff". A semi-bluff is when you bet or raise with a hand that you know is beaten at the moment, but isn't far behind -- and -- might still make your opponent fold even when you don't improve. By combining your chances of making the winning hand with the chances that you might bluff your opponent out, semi-bluffing often becomes a winning strategy where an outright bluff with nothing would be foolhardy. Semi-bluffing is so much better than outright bluffing because sometimes when you get caught -- you've actually made the winning hand!

Here's an example of a semi-bluff that worked for me in a high limit 7-Card Stud pot in Vegas. Understand that if this was a $1-to-$5 Stud game, this play would have little chance, since most players there are strictly just playing their own cards. In games where players are trying to read what they're up against, however, everything changes.

I started out with a pair of queens and a 9 kicker, and came in raising. Three players initially called my raise, but by the time we got to sixth street I had only one opponent and our boards looked like this:

9-Q / Q-J-3-10
?-? / 3-8-8-3

Note that on fifth street my opponent was high on board with an open pair of 8s, where he bet and I called. Now on sixth street he made an open two pair and bet again. What does he have?

Since I held one of his 3s, and since few players at these stakes will call an opening raise from a queen with just a pair of 3s, I ruled out 3s full. Also, he had no straight combinations and his board was unsuited, so he didn't have a straight draw or flush draw. I put him on a small or medium pair in the hole giving him three "under-pair".

Considering the size of the pot, my queens alone were enough to call here since they were only about a 5-to-2 underdog to make queens up or trips on the river. But wait! I also now had a 9-10-J-Q. That made me only a 5-to-4 dog to make queens up or better. I'm still not the favorite, but what if I could get him to fold his hand say, just an additional one-fourth of the time? Then, besides winning the pot when I improved, I'd also win a few of the times that I missed! That's a classic spot for a semi-bluff. So I raised!

My opponent reviewed my board with concern, peeked briefly at his hole cards and called. Since he didn't re-raise, I was even more confident that he didn't already have a full house. But his mere call also told me something else -- that he believed his 8s up were probably beaten at this point. After all, I did raise into an open two pair, didn't I? By the looks of my board, I could've easily had queens up or even a straight.

The river card came down and dirty, and my opponent checked blind. I looked down to find a useless deuce as my stranger and fired a bet out there, while positively holding the worst hand (still a pair of queens). He then squeezed his river card -- and squeezed, and squeezed -- then flicked his finger against it disgustedly. "Three stinkin' pair and I can't catch a card", he muttered as he threw the best hand into the muck.

I had two ways to win that hand and one of them came in -- namely, convincing my opponent that he needed to improve to win. How often will things work out that way? It depends upon the tendencies of your opponent, but if your semi-bluff causes him to fold just 25% of the times that he doesn't fill up, you become the odds-on favorite to win the pot. Here's a rounded mathematical breakdown for 15 averaged attempts.

You improve / he misses win 6 times
You miss / he folds win 2 times
You miss / he calls lose 6 times
You both improve lose 1 time

There are two keys to this type of play. First, your opponent must be sophisticated enough to be able to throw a decent hand away. Second, he must not be sophisticated enough to read right through your semi-bluff raise.

About the Author
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play
winning poker.

Fred's Books
Renzey covers the four most popular casino poker games: Seven Card Stud, Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo Split (8 or better) from two perspectives — the theoretical best play of the hand and its practical application. His wealth of personal and practical experience will show you exactly what a winning poker player needs to know to conquer real-world opponents whose weaknesses and strengths must be reckoned with. 77 Ways to Get the Edge at Casino Poker deals with universal poker concepts, effective strategies for each game, and 77 fully illustrated "situations" that, when understood and played correctly, can make you one of the toughest players in the game. Whether you are a professional player looking to get that extra edge or a recreational player looking to mix it up with the best, 77 Ways to get the Edge at Casino Poker is a must-have book!




Read more articles from Fred Renzey;
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