In part 1, we defined semi-bluffing and talked about the pros and cons of playing draws aggressively. We also touched on the importance of utilizing a balanced strategy towards being passive vs aggressive with draws. In part 2 we are going to talk about some other things to consider when choosing our line.
One thing to consider is if our hand actually has a chance to win at showdown unimproved. The power of semi-bluffing is in leveraging fold equity to get better hands out, while still having the equity of your draw to hit should they not go away. Getting an opponent to fold is huge when we have, say, an eight high flush draw. Something like 8h7h on a flop of K♥3♥2♠. You can’t expect to win a showdown with 8 high. What if instead, the flop were K♥3♥8♠? Now we have a flush draw and a pair of 8’s, and a pair of 8’s will win at showdown unimproved sometimes. When we have some showdown value directly (like a pair, or a big ace high heads up), we may choose to play our draw more passively to get these hands to showdown more cheaply, particularly against an aggressive opponent.
And that leads us into exploitative lines against various opponent types. If we were in a pot against a very strong player who is using balanced strategies, we would ideally want some draws in our calling range and some in our raising range for balance ourselves as discussed in part 1. It’s essential against a strong player, that when the draw completes, we could have it… regardless of whether we played the prior street aggressively or passively. What about players that we can deviate from this balanced strategy to exploit? Well, we should do so. We are going to talk about some general categories now. When I do this, I know from experience some readers will nitpick these categorizations as too rigid, not applicable to a broad enough range of opponents, etc. Of course, “tight-passive” is a generalization and there may be a variety of players who fall into this general category that do things differently from each other in game. Please remember, these are simply general categorizations… you will always want to adjust to specific opponents in a way that makes sense to exploit their leaks specifically! With that being said, let’s dive in and see how we might want to adjust our play with a draw against some general player types:
Tight/passive players make great semi-bluff targets! They fold too much, and they fail to raise us off our draws even when the have a very strong hand. Additionally, because of their “scared” nature of play style in general, they are the types that are least likely to pay us off when we do make our hand. Therefore it makes little sense to play draws passively against these opponents. The “bluff” component of our semi-bluffs is large, it makes sense to utilize that to our advantage and exploit it.
Loose/passive players make bad semi-bluffing targets. The problem is that our “bluff” component is much lower than normal here. Especially so against the most egregious of loose-passive players, the calling station. They call down super light… which, coincidently, is an effective strategy against players that bluff too much! So don’t bluff them. It’s not all bad news however that we shouldn’t try semi-bluffing draws against them. For starters, their passive tendencies will lead to us getting more free cards to hit our draws. Although when we miss we should generally just give up, when we do take free or cheap cards and get there, this is the player type most likely to pay us off, even for big bets. Against loose-passive player types, it makes sense to play our draws more passively, take the free cards they offer, and value bet them hard when we hit the hand.
This type of opponent makes for a decent semi-bluffing target. They are playing wider ranges, which means a weaker over all range with more weak holdings, making them more vulnerable to aggression. This player type is perhaps the most likely to raise us off of draws (or try to), so mixing in some passive/free card lines with our draws is appropriate. In particular, our draws that have some showdown value like a pair or a strong ace high, make a lot of sense to put in this bucket. Our loose-aggressive foes may be inspired to bluff more often against “weak” looking lines, so these hands can serve nicely as bluff catchers while also assuring we realize the equity of our draw to the monster.
These players are also good semi-bluff targets. The know how to find folds. They are also more likely to pay us off due to the price the pot is offering them when they don’t fold to our bluff but we improve to the best hand. Additionally, this is the player type most likely to be ranging us, so taking a balanced approach and simply calling with some draws in our range while raising with others is essential. We may choose to raise with some of our weakest draws and strongest draws, and call with others in between. For example, let’s say the flop is K♦5♥4♥. We may opt to raise with a hand like 8♦6♦. This is one of the weaker draws we’ll have on this board, a gut shot and back door flush draw and no overcards. Since our hand’s equity is fairly poor, we may need the “bluff” component of a semi-bluff to bolster our ability to continue profitably. And should we be raised, we have an easy fold. Conversely, if we held a draw like 7♥6♥, our hand equity is so big with the open ended straight flush draw that we are resilient to a raise and can even get stacks in with a now nice overlay from the pot because we have so much equity. If they fold to our raise, great, we take it down with 7 high, and if they raise us, we can raise again ourselves and get the money in. If we implement this strategy against our TAG opponents we’ll have some semblance of balance in our ranges that will make us harder to play against.
In summary, when considering how to proceed with a draw, don’t just put blinders on and call call call or raise raise raise… think about how to maximize value and exploit your opponents. The more fold equity is present, the more value you gain by leveraging it. The more likely a player is to pay you off big, the more attractive drawing cheaply becomes. Any line that rates to exploit an opponent’s favorite mistakes increases the long term value of your drawing hands!
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