One of the biggest flaws that micro-stakes is that they don’t play aggressively enough when they’re behind in a hand. Now this doesn’t mean that I expect you to move all-in on the flop when you have bottom pair and get raised, or to start committing massive proportions of your stack just because you picked up some equity on the turn, but in general you should turn up your tempo a little bit and be willing to mix up your game.
One concept that plays a big part in being aggressive is the semi-bluff. This is one of my favourite moves in no limit holdem, and it can not only win you more pots but also make you a harder player to read.
Unlike a “pure bluff”, which involves betting or moving all-in with air, in a semi-bluff even if you get called you will have at least one or two “outs” to win the pot. This gives you more opportunities to win the hand than a pure bluff.
For example, let’s say that I have 56s and the flop comes Qd-8s-4s. If our opponent c-bets the flop with a half-pot raise out of position, then a lot of micro-stakes players will simply flat-call here and think nothing of it. Now, this might not be entirely bad depending on our opponent’s tendencies, but what if we re-raised instead of flat-called here?
The advantages of semi-bluffing in this hand are numerous. For starters, if our opponent is LAG and has been c-betting 80% of the flops then there’s a strong possibility that he has nothing. By semi-bluffing here, we give our self an extra chance to win the pot. We could estimate that our fold equity is 40%, i.e. our opponent will fold here 40% of the time. The reason that our fold equity is so high is because we are sending the message across that we have a very strong hand (TPTK or possibly trips). Most opponents will fold bottom pair, overcards, and sometimes mid-pair in this position, hence we can take down the dead money post-flop.
The second advantage of semi-bluffing here is that even if we get called, we have a great chance of completing our flush draw or straight draw. Any “7” will do, along with any spade, plus a 3 will give us an open-ended straight draw on the turn. With four outs for the 7 and 9 outs for the flush, that gives us 13 outs in total or 27% equity (i.e. we have a 27% chance of being ahead by the turn). Now, since we re-raised the flop, our opponent will be more sceptical of raising the turn out of position and will probably check. This gives us a free card, so in essence we have a 2×27 = 54% chance of winning the hand by the river after being called on the flop.
Finally, the implied odds that we’ll receive will be very high having semi-bluffed a combo drawing hand like this. Our opponent would not have expected us to raise with this sort of hand, so he would not expect us to have made a flush or straight by the turn/river. This allows us to get paid off even more handsomely then if we were to transparently check through the hand, then hit our straight on the river and make a very suspicious raise. Most opponents would see straight through this.
We could also argue that semi-bluffing with hands like draws makes us more unpredictable because it “balances our range”. This means that it’s harder for our opponent to put us on a hand because we play lots of holdings in the same manner or we change how we play certain holdings every time. This means that when we re-raise our opponent on the flop, we could be holding a flush draw or trips in his eyes and it becomes a guessing game whether he wants to take a risk and call or not.