So my general suggestion, when people ask about bluffing in low limit No Limit Texas Hold Em, is, “Don’t!” Then I have to elaborate on that, to explain that a stone cold bluff, at lower limits, seldom works, because players are less concerned about the potential damage that can be done in a hand, because the stakes are so much lower. In our last article about bluffing, we looked at the continuation bet, a concept crystallized and popularized in Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ‘Em Vol. 1 & 2. This time we’ll take a look at the semi-bluff.
The semi-bluff is very simply, a bluff that may turn out to have not been a bluff at all. For example, you limp into a pot in late position with J-10 clubs with four other callers. The flop comes with 9 of clubs, Q of hearts and 3 of clubs. You currently have a Queen-high hand, but this is a flop that you can almost certainly bet on, because you have so many very strong draws. This is one method of the semi-bluff, betting on your strong draws that can develop into very powerful hands if they hit. If an opponent had top pair in this case, and your straight fills, out you will almost certainly get paid off, since your hand is well disguised. Check-calling on the flop gives the impression of a drawing hand and you are then less likely to get paid off if your hand hits. So the semi-bluff as a drawing tool is very effective.
Sometimes the semi-bluff has nothing to do with a draw, but more the real potential strength of your hand. For example, if you raise on the button with K-10 suited, and the flop comes out Q-10-6 rainbow, it is possible that your pair of tens is the best hand at this point. A strong bet following your preflop raise at this point is more than a continuation bet, since you did make a hand with the flop, but it is less than a value bet, since you did not make the best possible hand with the flop. But given your position and previous action in the hand, your semi-bluff may win you the hand when your opponents called a preflop raise with Q-X, since you are giving the impression that you have real strength in the hand.
With any bluff, or and bet for information, another key is to be willing to let go of the hand if you sense that you’re behind and will not be able to catch a draw or induce your opponent to fold. It is essential, especially at the lower limits, to not become so attached to a bluff that you give away all your chips with no hand at all. That’s worse than getting caught making a blatant steal attempt.
Timing is also critical to bluffing. It is not something to attempt every hand, or even one out five hands. It’s important to mix a few bluffs randomly into your game so your opponents remain unsure about the strength of your hands, but be sure you bluff, semi-bluff, or continuation bet from different positions and in different amounts, because if you fall into a pattern of bluffing it will be very easy for a patient and intelligent opponent to punish you for bluffing.
So don’t be afraid to bluff at a pot now and then. But before you do, think about what story you’re trying to tell with your bluff. Are you telling the table that you were strong preflop and are even stronger now? Are you telling the table that you were medium-strength preflop and the flop made you invincible? Are you telling the table that you have a very weak hand in order to induce a bet so you can check-raise? Every bluff must tell a story, just make sure that every action on a bluffing hand contributes to the story.