A common situation in poker you can encounter is when you have a drawing hand – a hand that is worthless at the moment but can become the nuts when certain cards appear on later streets. Playing draws passively by checking and calling may be costly in the long run. The aggression involved with semi-bluffs can make draws profitable by adding fold equity.


Making a semi-bluff involves betting or raising with a hand that, when called, may with a considerable probability become the best hand on later betting rounds.

Why semi-bluffs work?

Semi-bluffs work because you have always two ways to win the pot. You can win instantly, if your opponent folds, or when you complete your draw, should they call your bet or raise. Draws played passively usually have around 30-40% chance to complete. When you add the fold equity (the odds of making your opponent fold), you usually get total odds big enough for semi-bluffs to be profitable in the long run.

The advantage of semi-bluffing is creating an aggressive image. Since you no longer bet and raise only with the nuts, your play is not as transparent and you become unpredictable. Your opponent will find it more difficult to make optimal decisions against you at the table. They will make more mistakes and you will win more money.

By being aggressive and unpredictable, you have a chance to induce tilt in your opponents. They can become mad at you, thinking you are bluffing them all the time, and calling or even re-raising you with marginal hands. If you notice your opponents start doing this, you should slow down with your semi-bluffs and play your nuts even more aggressively. They will not believe that you have the goods and often give you their whole stacks.

Before deciding to make a semi-bluff, you have to consider a couple of things first:

Draw strength

Not every draw is good enough for making a semi-bluff. Some of them have too few outs. Others may not give you the best hand, when completed. Examples of draws you should not semi-bluff with:

 Your cards: T9 Flop: A76gutshot straight draw
 Your cards: 54 Flop: 67Jidiot straight draw (when you complete it, your opponent may show a higher straight)
 Your cards: 98 Flop: 762straight draw on a monotone board (your opponent may already have a flush or flush draw)

Examples of draws suitable for semi-bluffing:

 Your cards: T9 Flop: A86combo draw, straight flush draw (this draw is actually a favourite against any hand other than a set so you do not even need fold equity, on the turn it still has strong odds)
 Your cards: T9 Flop: A76gutshot straight flush draw
 Your cards: AK Flop: T46nut flush draw + two overcards
 Your cards: 86 Flop: KJ3flush draw
 Your cards: J9 Flop: T84nut open-ended straight draw
 Your cards: AK Flop: QJ3gutshot straight draw + 2 overcards

Betting round

Semi-bluffs should be made almost exclusively on the flop, where there are two streets left that can complete your draws. On the turn, your odds drop by half and you will need much bigger fold equity to make up for this.


Having position over your opponents always helps. You are the last to act and know the actions of your opponents. When they check, it is likely that they do not have a good hand and will fold to your bet. You can semi-bluff more when in position. Out of position, you should be more wary about making this play but an occasional check-raise may still have a good chance of success.

Your opponents

It is important to know the playing styles of your opponents. Semi-bluff is rarely going to work against a loose passive players – they just call way too often. Tight passive and average tight aggressive players are more suitable to pull semi-bluffs off at. Against loose aggressive maniacs, your aggression very often will induce further aggression in them, making them re-raise you.

Your preflop actions

If you were the preflop raiser, you have the initiative in the hand. Making a continuation bet as a semi-bluff will often win you the pot right away, especially when you are in position.

Number of opponents

I suggest that you semi-bluff only when you are heads up against one opponent. In multi-way pots, it is more likely that somebody has a good made hand and your fold equity decreases.

Conclusion on semi-bluff

Semi-bluff is a great tool to increase your winnings. Not only do you get two ways to win the current pot but you also build an unpredictable image that will benefit you in the future.

More articles on specific poker plays:

 Check raise
 Continuation bet
 Double barreling
 Squeeze play
 Stealing blinds

Go back to the Online Poker Strategy.