The Semi-Bluff

The semi-bluff is an active "deceptive move".

  • You don't think that you have the best hand at the moment?
  • Your hand has the potential for development?
  • You see a realistic chance of winning the pot immediately by betting?

Then take the initiative with a semi-bluff.

  • To semi-bluff is to play a draw aggressively.


The semi-bluff is basically a bluff. It aims to force your opponents fo fold their hands.

If that doesn't work, then the fact that it is only half a bluff (semi; Latin for half) pays off.

            You have a realistic chance of still getting the best hand.


In poker we are normally subject to dependencies.

  • If we have a good hand, we hope that our opponent will call our bet. If he folds, the strenght of our hand didn't pay off. In this situation you would have won the same amount with a trash hand that had no chance of winning a showdown. But if the opponent raises we could now be behind very easily.
  • If we have a weak hand, we have to hope that it will nevertheless be good enough to win or that our opponent will fold if we decide to bluff.

But the classic semi-bluff situation has the agreeable characteristics of an all-rounder.  Our intention is the same as the intention of a bluff, namely to win the pot immediately. But in case we're called, we still have a reasonable chance of winning, in contrast to a bluff that is called.


We find ourselves in the following situation. We're currently not holding a good hand, otherwise a bet would not be a bluff. More cards are still to come and our hand has the potential to beat hands that are currently stronger, otherwise a bet would be a pure bluff, not a semi-bluff.

A semi-bluff bet is thus a mixture of a bluff bet and a value bet.

  • The weaker the hand, the more it is a bluff.
  • The stronger the hand, the more you bet by conviction.

Semi-bluffs use the fact that poker players often can't know whether their opponent is strong, which is to your advantage, because this enables you to put pressure on your opponent.

  • This is what defines successful poker: You make easy decisions but force your opponent to make difficult ones.

Because you often have a draw, there are lots of opportunities to play semi-bluffs. The following explanations are designed to help you recognise how suitable semi-bluff possibilities really are.

1. High fold equity

The direct aim of the semi-bluff is to win the pot immediately. For this reason the fold equity is the top criterion. All other criteria are subordinate, although they can influence the fold equity directly.

The more often the opponents fold against a bet, the better. The fold equity is higher if:

  • the board didn't hit them completely or they even missed the board completely,
  • the aggressor has a passive image,
  • they are not getting sufficient pot odds, and
  • they have to make additional difficult decisions later in the hand.

Whenever we miss out on our primary goal of winning the pot straight away, the other criteria gain considerably in importance.

The more cards to come and the more cards that clearly help us to form a potentially winning hand, the higher the quality of our semi-bluff.

2. High development potential

  • A semi-bluff has better prospects on the flop than on the turn.
  • Clear outs are to be preferred.
  • Nut outs are the best possible outs.
  • Overcard outs are often unclear outs.
  • Outs to a pair of aces with a weak kicker should be treated carefully. They could simultaneously give your opponent a better hand.

3. High implied odds

  • The smaller the pot in relation to the players' stacks, the higher the implied odds.
  • The more rounds of betting still to come, the higher the implied odds.
  • The more difficult it is for our opponents to put us on our hand, the higher the implied odds (on a board with two suits, straight outs are much more difficult to identify than flush outs. If the board is paired, this is difficult to recognise).


This is an example of three semi-bluffs in different variants. Pre-flop as a squeeze play, on the flop as bet-out, and on the turn as check-raise.

The thought process that led to the decision to check-raise all-in was as follows:

You check instead of betting out because that way you either get a free river or you can push all-in. If your opponent bets, you know the following:

  • The size of the pot: 35 BB (after the opponent's bet)
  • The size of the bet: 60 BB (all-in raise)
  • Probability of winning P (hit): 33% (if we calculate with 15 outs)

In order to determine what the best decision is, you must compare the corresponding EVs:

EV (Fold)     = 0 [BB]
EV (Call)      = P (hit) x Pot – P (no hit) x Call
                = 33% x 35 – 67% x 14 =11.6 – 9.4
                = 2.2 [BB] > 0 [BB]

Now you know that it is better to call than to fold.

EV (All-in)   = Pot x P (fold) + P (call) x ((P (hit) x (pot + call) – P (no hit) * bet)
                = 35 x P (fold) + P(call) x ((33% * (35 + 46) – 67% x 60))

You can only decide whether it is better to raise or to call if you include information about the fold probability (P (Fold) = 100 % – P (Call)) of your opponent. There are two ways of doing this.

1. You use a value that you consider plausible:

    a) P (fold) = 40%

EV (all-in) = 35 x 40% + (100 % – 40%) x ((33% x (35 + 46) – 67% x 60)) = 5.9 [BB] > EV (call)

Assuming that our opponent folds in 40% of cases, all-in is the best alternative.

    b) P (fold) = 20%

EV (all-in) = 35 x 20% + (100% – 20%) x ((33% x (35 + 46) – 67% x 60)) = 3.8 [BB] > EV (call)

Assuming that your opponent folds in 20% of cases, all-in is the worst alternative. Here, calling is the best decision and folding the second-best.

2. We calculate the equation using the best alternative (EV (call)) and solve for P (fold). Then we will know from which fold probability of the opponent going all-in is more profitable than calling.

2.2 = 35 x P (fold) + (100% – P (fold)) x ((33% x (35 + 46) – 67% x 60))

            => P (fold) = 31.7%

Since you go all-in, you can therefore assume that your opponent folds approximately at least every third attempt.

These calculations have so far ignored how important a suitable river is for the decision to call. In order for additional value to be created, three things have to happen simultaneously. The river must ne appropriate, you must have the better hand, and you have to get paid off. You estimate this combination of probabilities as follows:

  • P (paid) = 30%
  • P (hit wins) = 90%

The following additional EV thus results for the option call:

EV (river hit)    = P (hit) x (P (hit wins) x* river call – P (hit loss) x river bet) x P (paid)
= 33 % x (90 % x 46 – 10 % x 46) x 30 %
                    = 3,6 [BB]

Working on these assumptions, calling has an overall EV of 2.2 + 3.6 = 5.8 [BB] and it requires a fold equity of 39.2%, to make going all-in the better alternative.

Of course, these considerations and calculations are much too complicated to be done live at the table. But as preparation and training for grasping these kinds of situations they are very useful and worth the trouble.


Semi-bluffs deal incomparably with the fundamental poker dilemma of incomplete information:

In many situations at the poker table you cannot know whether you currently have the best hand or not. But your opponents are faced with exactly the same dilemma, and this is exactly what the concept of the semi-bluff uses.

It forces your opponents to answer difficult questions. And that's what poker is all about!