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10/02/2006 No.34
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday February 10, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Now that we have discussed bluffing for a couple of weeks, let us pause to consider the beautiful concept of semi-bluffing. This is one of my favourites. Whereas pure bluffing is about deceit, semi-bluffing is about disguise.

A pure bluff is a weapon to wield when you definitely don't have the best hand and this is your only way to win the pot. Semi-bluffing is subtly different: you still might make the best hand, depending on the cards still to come; you just don't have the best hand when you bet. In other words, it is not your only way to win the pot, it is an extra way. If you get called, you still have possibilities.

Let's say you are playing suited connectors, for example the six and seven of clubs. If you bet or raise on a flop of AK9, this is a pure bluff. If you get called, you are in horrible shape: you can only give up or throw more money at the problem. But let's say the flop is K45. If you bet here with your 67 and get called, you are certainly behind. But this time, you have a straight draw. If a 3 or an 8 comes down, you will have the best hand - and the beauty is, having bet the flop with a mere draw, an opponent might not be able to read you for it. If the flop is K48 and you make your straight with the 5, it's nearly impossible for them.

So why not just check these flops and hope to make your straight for free? Because it's much more likely that you don't make it. On a flop of K45, your chances of making your straight on the next card are less than 20%. On a flop of K48 you're less than 10% to make it. So betting the flop - trying to force opponents out immediately - improves your odds by creating a whole extra way to win. (The same applies to betting a flush draw.)

If you're the pre-flop raiser, it also avoids giving free cards to anybody who made a weak call and doesn't have much yet either. The deck is not always on your side. Poker is all about creating opportunities to win anyway.