A while back I posted about abusive use of the semibluff. As I mentioned, using it too often simply makes your opponents realize that when you raise on a draw-centric board, you usually have the draw and not a strong made hand.
The semibluff is however a powerful poker weapon when used with restraint. One place where it can be very useful is live game situations where players have many tells and varied stack sizes and you have a tight table image.
What follows is an example from a hand I played last summer at the old R Club here in NYC. It was interesting situation, since, as was often the case at the R Club, there were people who had very different stack sizes. The players in question for this particular hand were Mike and Pappy.
By this point in the summer, I had logged about 40 hours of play with Mike and had a very good read on his game. He was absolutely incapable of folding any flush draw, and any top pair with an overcard kicker. He usually put in good sized raises with top pair on the flop (i.e., he knew it needed to be protected), but often raised a bit too much, and couldn't fold to a reraise. (By way of example, I once got an entire $400 stack from him on the flop, in a limped pot with the flop T43, where he held QT and I had 44. He just kept reraising!) With draws, Mike played a classic loose-passive style willing to call huge bets to see the next card and try to get there. The one type of draw, however, that he really loved and played aggressively was “a pair and a flush draw”, with which he'd often back with his whole stack on the flop.
I knew Pappy less; I'd only logged about 5 hours of play with him. However, I'd listened carefully to chit-chat about him, and that chat was extensive. Pappy was primarily a tight-aggressive player, although he occasionally was known to put a lot of pressure (i.e., hyperaggressive) preflop and on the flop. He wouldn't commit his whole stack with one pair, and he was even capable of folding two pair when deep enough. He assumed other people played as he did, and he always played his sets cagey. If you made a cagey play, he'd put you on a set and throw away two pair. The joke about him was that he often raised with two random cards, flopped two pair, and then would lay it down to a raise on the turn.
Now, to make a successful semibluff, I needed all this information as the hand progressed. The hand started with Pappy raising from early position to $10, a standard preflop raise in this $1/$2 NL HE game. Usually, a $10 raise here yielded four callers. I was the first to call from middle position with A 8, and Mike called behind me on the button. The blinds folded and we saw the flop three-handed with $33 in the pot. Mike had about $180 behind; I and Pappy each had around $300.
The flop came T 3 7. Pappy bet out strongly for $25. I knew he wouldn't bet here without a pair, but he didn't seem to have an overpair. I figured he probably had AT, but, as he sometimes raised with random cards, he might have T7. I felt my best bet, with Mike still to act behind me, was to call. I didn't have direct odds to draw, but I felt that I should stay and had some minimal implied odds. (Pappy would still bet once more if the flush card came, for example, and Mike would pay off with a variety of hands should he see the turn.) I felt that I might be able to make a move on the turn if I ended up heads-up with Pappy. However, semibluffing on the flop was a bad idea, because Pappy might reraise with two pair here and I'd have to put in the third raise as a semibluff to get him off it. (Usually, Pappy made his “big laydowns” on the turn.)
Mike called instantly behind me, and I was approaching certainty that he had a mere flush draw, obviously weaker than mine. He didn't usually play straight draws on two-tone boards, and since he didn't raise, I didn't think he had a pair at all. His call swelled the pot to $108.
The turn came 2. I felt this was a good card for me. It didn't change much about the hand, and when Pappy bet out $50, I felt that he was getting concerned with two callers. Pappy assumed that others played like he did, and with two callers, he probably was worried that only one had the flush draw while the other might be beating him. I saw the $50 as a defensive bet. I knew Pappy could lay down two pair sometimes, and would certainly lay down just one pair, even if I had under-read him and he'd started with KK or something like that.
I decided to “put myself” on a set of threes for Pappy's sake. I figured that he wouldn't be suspicious of the “just call” on the flop, because that's how he'd play a set of threes. Pappy would think, that since Mike acted after me, that on the flop I thought that Mike would fold. And, since I knew Pappy didn't have a draw, calling with my “set” would be — in Pappy's view — a safe play. The pot was $158, and I had just enough for about a pot-sized raise. Since I knew that Mike had a flush draw and no pair on the flop, I figured it was unlikely Mike had me beat at the moment. If I raised here, Mike would certainly commit the rest of his $145 stack on a flush draw; he always called with flush draws if he had less than $200 in front of him.
So, I saw this great opportunity. Pappy would get terrified, even with two pair, that someone who had a stack as big as his had bet all-in, and that someone else called. He wouldn't commit his whole stack on an all-in overcall with two pair or less. I moved all-in with my best “set face”. Mike instantly called. Pappy sighed loudly, shook his head, and tossed his hand to the muck.
His eyes got huge when I turned over my hand. I looked at Mike and
I'm drawing better than you, I think. He tabled J 6. He had more outs than he might expect —
thanks to Pappy's fold the three jacks and three sixes were good.
Sadly, the river came 6. I was sad to see the money shipped
the wrong way, but I was very happy with the play! I had gotten the
best hand to fold, and gotten a call by a hand with only six outs with
one card to come!
Someone whose attention had waned momentarily right after I'd gone all
in looked down as the chips shipped to Mike and said:
a pair of
sixes won that huge hand!?! and Pappy looked ready to fall out of
his chair. I had protected the pot for Mike, of course, but it was
well worth it to semibluff, get called by the player I was beating,
and have the best of it with one card to come!
Plus, if I had to pick between Pappy and Mike getting the chips, I'd pick Mike since he was such a weaker player. If I'm going to protect a pot for someone, I want it to be for the weakest player at the table, and Mike was surely in the running for that at the old R Club.