It seems like every no-limit hold’em cash game or tournament on television has a few spots shown where one player makes a large all-in semi-bluff. There is a lot of flash to going all-in with only a draw, and it makes it very difficult for your opponents sometimes if they know you could be making the same play with a big hand like a flopped set or two pair. A lot of players try to emulate the professionals they see going all-in on television by trying to make the same plays in their home games or in small stakes games on the Internet, and often these players seem frustrated when they get called down by the types of hands that normally fold on television. These mishaps can usually be avoided by understanding the advanced concepts in poker math that tell us the value of semi-bluffing all-in in certain spots. Here we’re going to look at one way to estimate if a semi-bluff will be profitable based off of some advanced mathematical ideas.

When you make a bet that’s an all-in semi-bluff, there are a number of variables that come into consideration. There’s the pot size, the size of your all-in, how often you expect your opponent to fold, and how much equity you expect to have against his range of hands that actually call your all-in. Working with four variables in your head and keeping everything accurate can be extremely difficult, and here I’m going to show a proven method to make these types of decisions much easier in heads-up spots.

The first part of the calculation is to find what portion of the final pot you expect to get back on average when your opponent calls your all-in. You do this by taking the same percentage of the final pot as your percent equity in the pot the times your opponent calls. You’ll never know your exact equity because you can never know your opponent’s exact calling range, but a good estimation is fine for our purposes. So for example, suppose you’re shoving $100 into a pot of $100 and you expect to have about 20% equity when your opponent calls. Then the final pot will be $300 if your opponent has your stack covered, and you’ll get back 20% of that which is $60.

The second part of the calculation is to subtract this value you found above from your bet size. This will give you your true risk amount in the hand. So if you’re betting $100 but you’re getting back $60 whenever your opponent calls, then your true risk is $40. Since you have your true risk amount, you can compare it to the potential reward amount which is the amount of money in the pot before you make your all-in. The pot size before you shove is $100, so you’re risking $40 to win $100. Now to find out how often your opponent has to fold for your all-in semi-bluff bet to be good, divide your risk by the sum of your risk and reward. So from our example, you’ll want to divide 40 by 140, which gives us about 29%. So if your opponent folds more than 29% of his or her range in this spot, your all-in semi-bluff will be profitable if your estimation of his equity was correct.

This process can be proved with a rigorous mathematical proof that is not very practical for use at the table. It seems a bit complicated at first, but the more you practice this method, the faster you’ll be able to do the necessary steps to decide if your all-in semi-bluffs are good. This means no more random guesswork in these large no-limit hold’em pots, and more profits for you through more accurate play.

About The Author

Erik Allaire is a master poker player who has won many professional poker events, wishes to represent his country at the world level.

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