Semi-Bluffing Tactic in Poker
Semi-bluffing is an important tactic that is at the heart of aggressive poker. Most beginning players build their games by learning to play tightly first and, then, adding aggressive plays into their repertoire. Semi-bluffing is one of those plays. It is particularly effective against tight but unsophisticated opponents.
Every bet or raise has the chance to win the pot by compelling opponents to fold. When you are on a draw, the additional margin of winning odds from bluffing can combine with the nominal winning odds of the draw to make betting/raising a more effective play than simply checking/calling, as basic strategy would normally prescribe. Betting or raising with a draw accomplishes four things: (1) it deceives your opponents into thinking you have a strong hand now; (2) it builds the pot that you win when you complete your hand; (3) it might win the pot immediately; and (4) if it doesn't, your show of strength sets you up for bluffing later.
Betting or raising "on the come" with a draw is a strategy for a special category of hand called a betting draw, which occurs when a draw had a positive expected value on current bets or raises. The semi-bluff tactic simply recognizes that every bet or raise carries inherent odds of winning that can combine with the odds of completing a pot draw to bring the hand into this value territory. Put most simply, when you bet or raise on the come with a pot draw, you are giving yourself a chance of winning immediately by forcing out all your opponents. This is your preferred outcome. But if that doesn't happen, you could still win by completing the hand. In this way, the play of pot draws and betting draws becomes blurred in real life.
A good example of a simple semi-bluffing situation would be in Seven-Card Stud, where you have As-Qc in the hole, and after sixth street, you have Qd-9d-10d-2d showing. You started aggressively, but another player has stayed with you and you backed off after he paired a king of fifth street. However, you now notice that you have stumbled into a draw for a flush with your four diamond board cards. You don't have a winning hand yet, but you could make one of several good-to-strong hands on seventh street, from two pair, aces up, to a flush. Those odds by themselves don't quite give you a value hand. Nonetheless, now would be a good chance to run a semi-bluff by betting or raising instead of checking and calling. With the semi-bluff, you are representing a flush, and you hope that all your opponents will believe you and let you have the pot right then and there. However, if they don't believe you, then you still have a reasonable chance of winning anyway with your last card.
None of this is to say that you should play poker by betting and raising with both strong hands and draws to strong hands. There is a fine line between playing aggressively and playing recklessly. Often, it is best to play a pot draw the conventional way by checking and calling instead of raising into it. The wisdom of semi-bluffing, like every other tactic, depends on the situation. The semi-bluff works best when circumtances favor the success of your bluff and when you have a high percentage draw. On the other hand, if you bet or raise on the come under unfavorable circumstances, you will be making a mathematical mistake by betting and raising when it benefits your opponents. That's how your opponents win your money.