The following strategy and advice relates to limit hold'em only. Please note that a reasonable understanding of the game and experience is required to fully appreciate the advice contained below.
DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY SEMI-BLUFF
Many players know what a semi-bluff, but few players actually know how to use the semi-bluff. This is mainly evidenced by the fact that many players automatically semi-bluff. For example, they will bet or raise whenever they flop an open ended straight draw or a flush draw. Now technically speaking, this is not semi-bluffing. It is simply betting on the come; building a pot in anticipation of completing one's draw.
To truly semi-bluff, you must have some chance of winning the pot by betting right there and then. And always keep in mind that, if everyone folds when you bet, the "bluff" aspect of the semi-bluff has succeeded - which is a positive. It may be one of those nights where none of your draws materialise, so in that case, it would be better to pick up a small pot when the situation is right.
So for those who genuinely want to semi-bluff, the first rule is to do it selectively rather than automatically. Here are some useful guidelines:
- A semi-bluff is more likely to succeed when the flop is Kh-7h-3d than it is when the flop is Kh-Qh-10d. The former may have missed everyone, but the later may have hit a number of players. Therefore, it may be wise to semi-bluff on the first flop, but not on the second.
- As semi-bluff is more likely to succeed against a small number of opponents than a large number. Those who semi-bluff against 6 opponents are simply betting with their draw as there is no expectation that will win the pot by simply forcing everyone to fold with a single bet.
- Use changes in the board to manipulate your opponents with the semi-bluff. For example, let's say you have Kh-5h on the big blind and no one raised preflop. The flop is Kd-9h-4c. A middle position player bets and you call. Everyone else folds. The turn is an Ah. He bets again. In this spot, you may want to raise as a semi-bluff. There is a strong chance that he has a king, possibly with a good kicker (eg.. K-J). We can assume that he doesn't have A-K because he didn't raise before the flop. Therefore, that Ace on the turn will probably scare him and in addition, it improves you to a nut flush draw, not to mention the fact that a 5 on the river would also win it for you. This is a good spot to semi-bluff, simply because there is a good chance he will fold if he doesn't have an ace in the hole. If he calls, you still have plenty of outs.
- Don't semi-bluff if the flop is 5h-8h-9d. There are numerous hands that could call this flop, including gut shot draws, middle pair and two overcards. Semi-bluffing simply won't work on this sort of flop.
- Semi-bluff can be effective when there is a high pair on the board. If you have 8s-9s and the flop is Ks-Kd-5s, there is a good chance that
A RAISE ON THE TURN MAY KNOCK OUT THE BEST HAND AND ISOLATE THE SECOND BEST HAND
You should never overlook the prospect of knocking out the best hand with a raise - provided that your positioning and your timing is correct. However, you should only attempt this on the turn, where the bets are twice the size. Let us provide you with an example. Let's say you are in a middle position with K-10 and the flop is Qc-10c-6s. An early position player bets and you put him on a draw - either a straight or flush draw. In any case you are sure you have him beat. You call and then a conservative late position player also calls. In my view, this late position player has a hand like A-10, Q-J or possibly J-J. In either case, it appears that he may have you beat. On the turn, a 7d falls and the first player bets again. This might be an excellent spot to raise for two reasons. First, you will probably knock out the late position player (who probably has the best hand), simply because he won't call two bets cold without a strong hand or monster draw. Second, is isolates the early position player and forces him to pay for his draw. If you can force out this third player, you will turn out to be a good favourite against the early position player, even if he has a flush draw and an overcard (assuming that you read his hand correctly).
WHEN YOU HAVE A MONSTER, HONESTLY EVALUATE YOUR PROSPECTS OF MAKING MONEY WITH IT
Some experienced players who flop a monster often lose sight of their main objective in poker: making money. Let's say you have K-K and the flop is K-J-J. Now if you feel as though there is an opponent in the pot with a hand like Q-J or A-J, when you can start pulling all the fancy slowplays and check-raises that your heart desires. But if none of your opponents have any part of the flop, they may fold the moment you bet or put in a check-raise. A good player will always succeed in making money in these situations when other, even experienced players, will not.
Here are a few key pointers:
- Let's say you raised preflop in a late position with K-K and the flop of K-5-5. Everyone checks to you. Here, you should also check. On the turn, a Q falls and an opponent bets into you. This is the key decision making point of the hand. If you raise here, there is a strong chance that everyone will fold, including the bettor - in which case you will only win one turn bet and the preflop action with your monster.
But if you simply call, you may attract another loose call or two between you and the bettor. Even if you don't, there is still the possibility that he will bet again on the river since you simply called the turn. When he does, you can then raise and maybe he'll call out of curiosity. Alternatively, he may check to you and when you bet, he may call you simply on the suspicion that you're on a steal with nothing but Ace-high. In either case, you have won an extra bet by not raising on the turn, even though your hand seems to scream out for a raise when someone bets. Concentrate on making money, not on simply getting in the big raise!
- Let's say you have As-10s and the flop is Ks-Qs-4s. A relatively loose player bets in front of you. In this situation, it may be adviseable to play your hand fast in an attempt to represent a hand like As-9c (ie.. ace high flush draw). If you raise the flop then continue to bet the turn and river, he will probably call the whole way. But the moment you start check-raising and slowplaying, he may get nervous and fold- especially with three suited cards on the board.
- Let's say you have A-J suited. A player raises under the gun and you decide to call in a middle position. Everyone else folds. The flop is A-8-6 and he checks. Now you know that he would bet if he had an ace in the hole, so you assume that he's not very happy with the flop. You bet and decides to call. On the turn, a jack falls, giving you top two pair. He checks again. Now as strange as it may sound, it may be best to check behind him. Let's say he has Q-Q. If you bet the flop, but then check the turn behind him, he may think that you were attempting to steal on the flop with nothing or you were betting a hand like 8-9 or perhaps 10-10. As a result, he will either come out betting on the river or he will call when you bet on the river. In this way, you achieve one extra bet whereas, you wouldn't if you came out betting on the turn with your monster. Slowplaying shouldn't always be about giving the magical card to an opponent so that they will bet and raise you endlessly with a strong, but second-best-hand. Sometimes, you should slowplay simply to earn yourself a call on the river that you would not get if you bet on an earlier street.