semi-bluff strategy with draws

Which Draws Should You Semi-Bluff With?

Bluffing is an indispensable part of the game—as Doug likes to say, “Bluffing is life in poker.”

In this article, we’ll discuss how to go about choosing hands to semi-bluff, and we’ll break down the process that every elite player uses to fine-tune this aspect of their game.

What makes a good semi-bluffing hand?

There are two criteria a hand must satisfy to be a good candidate for semi-bluffing on the flop:

  • No showdown value. You should generally lean towards checking with any hand that has potential showdown value (such as pairs or ace-high).
  • Potential to improve to a strong hand. This includes everything from top pair to a royal flush, depending on the board texture.

We’ll use the following tools to determine which draws we should semi-bluff:

  • The preflop ranges from the Upswing Lab
  • Our trustworthy solver
  • Some brain power to put it all together

Let’s begin by going through hands, both in position and out of position, to learn from the solver’s calculations. (If you’re not a solver-friendly player, you can skip to the conclusions drawn by each simulation.)

Semi-bluffing when out of position

Playing out of position (OOP) with a tight range versus a cold caller who also has a tight range is one of the toughest spots in No Limit Hold’em. Consequently, there is a lot of debate about the correct way to approach it.

That being said, we can learn some things from the solver by understanding how it arrives at its solutions.

Let’s look first at a wet board and then a dry one, and draw conclusions about each.

The wet board

Take a look at the following hand:

Online $0.25/$0.50. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $50.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in middle position (MP)
utg folds. Hero raises to $1.10. co folds. Button (BU) calls. 2 folds.

Flop ($2.95): Q 9 6
Hero…?

Let’s start with each player’s preflop ranges. Here is our Hero’s range for raising preflop from MP:

Yellow = Raise from MP, Grey = Fold

And here is the BU’s calling range:

Yellow = Call vs MP, Grey = Not called

Now, let’s break out the solver to learn more about this spot.

The solver is set for calculating the game theory optimal (GTO) solution for a two-thirds pot-sized-bet. Let’s see what the solver says:

We can see that the solver c-bets at a very low frequency (19.51%) in this spot. This is no surprise given that we are OOP with the weaker range (we have around 47% equity against the BU’s range on this board).

This is what the solver suggests bluffing frequencies should be:

  • Combo draws: ~40% of the time
  • Flush draws: ~40% of the time
  • Open-ended straight draws: 40–50% of the time
  • Gutshots: 30–50% of the time

We can see that all the frequencies are mixed and it seems that the expected value (EV) is quite similar between c-betting and checking in this spot when betting this size.

Using complex mixed frequencies like this isn’t possible in-game, though, so we need to simplify–or humanize–the solver’s suggestions. One way to do so would be as follows:

  • C-bet the lower nut flush draws (As2s)
  • Check-call higher nut flush draws (AsKs)
  • C-bet the open-ended straight draws and gutshots without a backdoor flush draw
  • Check-call the open-ended straight draws and gutshots with a backdoor flush draw
  • Check-raise the combo draws

This results in a well-balanced range that is hard to exploit.

Pro tip: Checking your entire range when OOP in this type of spot is a decent strategy that is simpler to implement.

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The dry board

Let’s take a look at another hand:

Online $0.25/$0.50. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $50.00.

Hero is dealt two cards in MP
Utg folds. Hero raises to $1.1. Co folds. BU calls. 2 folds.

Flop ($2.95): A 9 3
Hero…?

We don’t have any draws to bluff with on uncoordinated boards like this, so we’ll need to get creative to balance our value betting range. With that in mind, let’s refer to the solver:

Again, more mixed frequencies with almost every non-made hand c-betting at least a small percentage of the time. Though it seems the solver doesn’t like to c-bet off-suit broadways, KQs, and KTs.

To humanize the solution on boards like this, we could semi-bluff with all the suited non-made hands except KQs, and AQs with a backdoor flush draw will be the bottom of our value betting range.

This strategy is well-balanced, and it gives us a good bluff-to-value ratio on the flop.

Semi-bluffing when in position

We can bet more often when in position (IP), and so playing this spot correctly will have a greater impact on your winnings. We will often times have a range advantage, which will work together with our positional advantage to further increase our EV.

Let’s again discuss what to do on at a wet board and then a dry board.

The wet board

Online $0.50/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards on the BU
3 folds. Hero raises to $2.2. SB folds. BB calls.

Flop ($4.70): Q 9 6

Hero…?

Let’s see what the solver is up to in this spot:

Here is the frequency at which the solver recommends c-betting with each type of draw:

  • Combo draws: 85%
  • Flush draws: King-high and Ace-high 70–80%; queen-high and lower 22%
  • Open-ended straight draws: 70%
  • Gutshots: High ones (KJ, KT) 70%, low ones 40–50%
  • Ace-high with one spade: 50–90% (the higher the hand, the lower the frequency).
  • Ace-high with two hearts: 20–50%
  • King-high with backdoor straight or flush draw: 60–80%
  • Low backdoor flush draws with backdoor straight draws (Ex: J7hh or 54hh): 50–70%

Once again, since we as humans could never implement such a complex strategy, we need to humanize the solution to guide our decision making. Here’s how I would approach semi-bluffing with each hand type in this spot:

  • Combo draws: C-bet
  • Nut flush draws: Check back
  • Non-nut flush draws: C-bet
  • Open-ended straight draws: C-bet
  • High gutshots: C-bet
  • Low gutshots: Check back 
  • Ace-high with backdoor flush draw: Check back
  • King-high with backdoor straight or flush draws: C-bet
  • Low backdoor flush draws with backdoor straight draws: C-bet

The dry board

Online $0.50/$1. 6-Handed. Effective Stacks $100.00.

Hero is dealt two cards on the BU
3 folds. Hero raises to $2.2. SB folds. BB calls.

Flop ($4.7): J 6 2
Hero…?

Again we are faced with a board that has almost no connectivity, and the only draws are 54s, 53s and 43s. So, there simply aren’t enough draws to semi-bluff with—we need to use other hands. Let’s see what the solver says:

We can see that the solver bluffs at a decent frequency with every non-made hand. It almost seems as though each hand’s equity doesn’t matter, with every non-made hand being played very similarly.

Now let’s humanize this solution. Here’s one way to organize our range in this spot without using mixed frequencies:

Red = Bet, Green = Check, Grey = Not in Range

So, our semi-bluffs on this board would include:

  • Gutshots (like 54s)
  • Backdoor straight-draw + backdoor flush draws (like K9ss)
  • Backdoor straight-draws that improve on more than 3 cards (T9,98,87s,75s)

Keep in mind this is just one way of building a well-balanced range. This is where a player’s unique abilities and style might come into play.

Semi-Bluffing IP vs OOP Conclusion

As these examples reflect, playing a solid strategy IP differs drastically from playing one when OOP.

The main reason for this is an obvious and fundamental part of poker: we are at an informational disadvantage when OOP and thus need to disguise and protect our range. C-betting with every draw when OOP sacrifices a lot of EV, but when IP, we can often times c-bet every draw with near-impunity. 

That’s all for today! Be sure to leave questions and feedback in the comments section below.

Good luck, grinders!

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