One thing you need to learn which I repeat time and time again is when to use the semi bluff or when to “represent hands”. The semi-bluff can be incorporated into your game by very occasionally switching from tight to loose. A bluff with a hand that is possibly weak now, but has the potential to be the best hand (played enough times).
The idea is, that if you make a semi-bluff with a straight/flush draw, you instantly look like a gambler (if you go to a show down). Doyle Brunson’s book “Super System” refers to this play as being one of the most important plays there is. Phil Hellmuth’s book refers to “representing hands” as “a strong way to play hold’em” but forgets to mention “when used correctly”.
You cannot bluff your way through every hand in no-limit poker, because eventually you become seen as a maniac willing to lie/bet at any opportunity. Therefore you need to learn that once you’ve shown down a hand that is weak, others will instantly become more inclined to call you.
The WHY it is important boils down to this (quotes come direct from DB’s Super System):
The semi-bluff sets you up… it sets you up to win big pots in future hands! So use it as much as you can until the point at which you get caught.
First of all, if you play a very tight game, you won’t get much action when you have a hand, ‘because your hand will be an open book’ when you make any bet, let alone a big one, it will be obvious you made something strong. If you play a fairly tight game, but give a bit of action, you will get action in return (‘You’ve got to give action to get action’). Others won’t be able to distinguish your good hands from your bad hands (‘they’ll get befuddled’).
HOW to execute the semi-bluff strategy as a tactic
Lets say you sit down at a table. Whether the general play is tight/loose, aggressive/passive (these terms are defined at the bottom of this page if you want more clarity on them) you *should* start out loose and give action regardless of your hand. In the first 2-5 hands you should bet/bluff and attempt to steal from as many players as you can until you get caught. Then don’t bluff that player again. i.e. steal and bluff your way through as many hands as you can without getting caught at the start. You do this by betting (in early positions and when no one else bets) and raising (in later positions). You do this to “take the lead”.
In fact, when you are in a hand, you should read what the player has by watching them, and watching who takes the lead on any given round for the given table cards, and what hand they take the lead with. Was it bottom pair? Was it top pair? Was it a draw? This information will tell you about that player – whether they are a gambler, whether they are tight, or whether they are weak.
So your aim is to take the lead on many hands early on in your session, then switch to a style of play that is ROCK solid. The next time you get a hand you will play it just as aggressively but you will not be bluffing, in fact, chances are you will be able to take your opponent for everything they have got, because they will figure you are bluffing, won’t adapt correctly to your new style and lose with an inferior hand.
Achieving this style is difficult initially as it takes courage to bluff at a hand but notice that its not only tough for a weak player to call down a large bet with AA on a board of 776, but its tough for ANYONE. And this is another key thing to learn. Because its tough for anyone, making those big bets at the start of your session, won’t lose you as much as you think because more often than not your opponent won’t have 88-AA when they raise preflop. So you’ll win often enough when you simply try and take the lead away from him and bet 10%-33% of his stack.
Also if you take the lead with a big bet on a board of K82, you either have Kx, 8x, 2x, a set (KKK, 888, 222) or nothing. If you win with nothing and then next time around on a board like Q62 you make a set with 22/66, you’re much more likely to get paid off on your hand.
Btw you should only attempt to take the lead on more than one round if you believe your opponent will fold eg. the board is Kh 8c 5c and in a raised pot. On the flop your opponent bets more than one unit below the pot’s total value. You raise in a late position to represent a K or a set, and he calls you. The turn: 4d, this completes a straight but not a flush. Would betting again be a good idea? YES, early on you want to appear wild & loose. Bet again if its checked to you and bet strong… you want to try and “get away with it” (again). If a player checks when an open end straight draw has completed its generally a weak play so try take the lead. As you are bluffing though and want to appear strong, make no concessions, bet as close to the pot total as you can. In a live game, bet as much as you can work out the pot total to be (good to keep a mental sum total going).
If your opponent only calls again and the river doesn’t complete the flush, you could bet the river as well, but if the flush card arrives (as well as the straight) any potential draw has completed, plus your opponent has invested heavily in the flop and turn, so on the river they are unlikely to fold to a river bet! So, you only wouldn’t bet on the river if the flush card arrived. Otherwise represent whatever is out there on the river and try to steal the pot. If you get called, yes you lose, but for the next few hands your opponents will figure you to be a fool and call you down with any type of hand.
Ultimately, you want to look like a loose player willing to give a lot of action (for reasons as stated above), but at the same time you ‘don’t want to look like a fool throwing a party’ (i.e. continuously getting caught bluffing). Therefore your aim is to put out as many big bets as you can, for as long as you can get away with it – then switch to the tight style of play. This will result in you looking loose without losing more than one hand. You should therefore use the semi-bluff only against a tight player thereafter, because he is most likely to allow you to get away with it many more times than a good or drunk/loose opponent, adding significantly to your winnings. More on this in future posts.
Enough talking, let’s look at some real world examples
Notice that if you play a hand like the one below:
… then next time when you have three of a kind, the bet will look like another bluff! The key is to get your hands looking the same (bet-wise) so that if you bluff one hand, the next time you bet big (when it isn’t a bluff) they will look back at you’re past play, decide you’re a fool and either call you down or re-raise you! Ca-ching!
If you can execute this tactic correctly (against the correct player types) early on in your game of poker, you will quickly adopt the image of a loose player, ‘and a first impression is a lasting impression’. So from the get go you will pick up numerous pots tighter players will lose out on, and when you hit your hand, you will also do well, since you will clearly have the nuts.
One further bit of advice to using this tactic correctly is to learn to use it then tighten up again once you’ve been caught bluffing. Getting caught more than 1 time (in a row) can cause you to lose a lot of money, fast… however, online at least, this seems to be very normal because so many players don’t really ‘get-it’.
And in a nut shell this is how to deceive others at the poker table and is effectively how we create a gambler style ‘table image’.
Here are a couple of hands I won using this tactic in a no limit game because I used this tactic:
Analysis: So here preflop I put out a raise of $5, one caller, and then I bet $15 on the flop to represent an Ace. If I get called I will most likely give up trying to win the pot, unless my opponent checks with his position on the turn (due to no flush card). Because I made a big bet, there’s less of a chance my opponent will call me with a hand like KK, or A+a weak kicker (A6-AT) which beat me. My opponent was also a calling station preflop calling all sorts of raises far too often + he’s short stacked so he’s got to be fairly sure of his hand before he can call me.
Following this hand I proceeded to lose a couple of pots so eroded my stack from $90 down to $40 or so… I reraised a couple of hands preflop when I had half decent cards as this was a fairly loose table with lots of small $2 to go bets going in preflop from Chris89 to my right. Then this hand came up:
Preflop: player to my right in late position makes it $2 to go (again) typical maniac style of play raising way too frequently. I reraised to $5 because my hand is likely better than his, but I’m already behind anyone with an Ace. 3 callers preflop making it a $20 pot to fight over
Flop Analysis: 2-3-J (flush draw). Everyone checked to me in last position. So I bet $26 on a $20 pot… one caller. I had $6 left to bet, which duly went in. You can see the result. My only real concern was my opponent might have an AJ but given my position and short stack he would likely have bet into me preflop if he had anything and chances are, being the preflop raiser, I wouldn’t have given it up. Final result was a tasty $108 pot.
The bottom line is this – 1 or 2 infrequent displays of aggression, thrown into your tight play will make you look like a maniac and keep opponents guessing about what it is you have. You shouldn’t play so tight people know you will always have a hand, but you also shouldn’t play so loose you lose big chunks on a frequent basis.
Here’s another hand:
Preflop analysis: Q4s – I raise in late position because this guy to my left in the small blind was stealing a lot of pots from me and I wanted position on him. I figure hes not bluffing every time but he 3 out of 4 of the pots from me. Each time it felt purely like positional play.
Flop analysis: I guessed my opponent didnt have A5 or A2 – he didnt seem the type. However given I was getting bullied by this player I felt it was time to fight or fly. I chose to fight. All in – the next card was a 4 and he showed down 55. I played it bad but this is where sometimes a gamble can pay off big – in this case I got to $140. But the point is really that its ok to sometimes gamble with a weak looking hand as you will occasionally hit your draws and win those all in’s – so long as you have at least got something rather than nothing.
tight table – most players don’t enter the pots (raised or not)
loose table – most players do enter the pots (raised or not)
passive – passive is a style of play that is (generally) considered weak – it is a style where players follow the play by of others, i.e. they check or call along with everyone else rather than bet/raise to take the lead.
aggressive – Aggressive players try to take the lead in a hand by raising and getting others to call.