When is Your Poker Hand a Bluff Catcher?

Daniel Negreanu
Knowing when your hand is a bluff catcher is one thing.

A "bluff catcher" hand is one where the only equity you have in the pot comes from picking off an opponent's bluff.

It's not a strong enough hand to bet for value, because your opponent will never call with worse.

And it's not strong enough to call with versus your opponent's value-betting range, because if he'sbetting for value, he has you crushed.

The only value your hand has, then, is in catching the bluff.

Viktor Blom

How to Recognize a Bluff Catcher

Knowing when your hand is a bluff catcher is the first step to playing it more profitably. Your hand can only truly be a bluff catcher on the river.

While your hand may technically be one on the turn, if you call you may still have to call another bet on the river.

A true bluff catcher closes the action. If you call, the hand is over and immediately the hands are shown down.

Like everything in Hold'em, what makes a hand a bluff catcher depends on a number of variables, from your opponent to your image to any prior dynamics at the table.

It depends on everything. So, like always, you need to pay attention at the table. Study your opponents and try and figure out their playing tendencies.

If you know their value-betting range, then you know whether or not your current hand is ahead or behind that range. If you're behind it, then your hand is a bluff catcher.

Assign Your Opponent a Bluffing Frequency

If he bets, you'd better have a good idea of what his bluffing frequency is. If your hand isn't good versus his value-betting range, then for you to call profitably he'd have to be bluffing a high percentage of the time.

This all goes back to studying your opponents. Watch their bets and their raises and see how they react when they're called. Figure out which players are tight and ABC, which players are good LAGS and which are bad LAGS.

Watch their every move. Watch what cards they bluff and what cards they check. If you have a good idea of when your opponent likes to bluff, it'll obviously be much easier to pick him off with your bluff catcher.

If in a given spot you think he'll be bluffing 50% of the time, value-betting the rest of the time and his river bet is laying you 2.5-1, then assuming your calculations are correct you have a profitable call.

An Example:

Six-max, $1/$2 blinds. $200 effective stacks.

You raise to $8 in the small blind with J T. Your opponent in the big blind calls.

The flop comes 4 6 8. You bet $10 and he raises to $35.

You call with your flush draw and the turn comes T. You check and he bets $66. You call.

The river comes 8. You check. Your opponent fires $100.

Should you call?

Well, you should immediately realize your hand is a bluff catcher. You have top pair, but your kicker isn't very good and your opponent has shown aggression on three streets.

If he's betting for value in this spot, you're crushed 100% of the time.

There's not a single hand in his range he bets three streets on this board for value that you're ahead of.

Tom Dwan

So is He Bluffing?

Well, we don't have enough information. Now is when you have to look at your opponent and think about his tendencies.

If he's an ABC/TAG, then he's never bluffing here enough to make this call profitable.

This bet is for value about 99% of the time and you can safely fold.

If he's a super-aggressive player that will raise his draws and fire three streets with them whether he hits or not, then you should be more inclined to call.

You just have to weigh your opponent's value-betting range vs. his bluffing range.

If he has more bluffing hands in his range, you should be more likely to call.

In this hand, even against an aggressive opponent, it's very close.

The river paired the 8 and now many pair-plus-straight draws he may have raised the flop with (8-7, 8-5 etc.) you now lose to.

If, however, the river blanks off something like the 2, you should probably check and call.

Another Example:

Six-max, $1/$2 blinds. $200 effective stacks.

You raise to $8 with A 2 in the cut-off. A loose and bad player calls on the button and everyone else folds.

The flop comes A 6 8. You bet $12 and he insta-calls.

The turn comes 3. You bet $25 and he tanks and calls.

The river comes J. You check and he fires $55.

Look at His Bluffing Range

Again, it's pretty clear at this point that we have a bluff catcher. We bet two streets with top pair, worst kicker and he called both of them. When we check the river, he fires.

If he's value betting any ace here, our hand is no good. If he has a weird two pair, our hand is no good. So we take a look at his bluffing range. We think about what hands he would call two streets with.

Phil Hellmuth
Think it through. What hands would he call two streets with?

He does it with aces, he does it with weird one pairs, he does it with two pairs, and he does it with all flush draws and straight draws.

When he fires the river, you can take out the weak one-pair hands because even fish realize that they have showdown value.

He will insta-showdown A 7 or 7 8, hoping his hand is good. What we have left are his value hands and his bluffs.

And because there are so many draws in this hand (all flush draws, 7-9s, 5-7, 4-5s, etc.), all of which missed, you can assign a very high bluff frequency to this type of player.

A lot of fish just automatically bet busted draws whenever you check to them on a missed-flush river. With that information alone that turns this bluff-catcher hand into a call.

You call, he shows J 9 and your hand is good.

Put Your Opponent on a Range

If you want to be a successful player, you have to try and put your opponent on an accurate range. If you can accurately deduce what your opponent's most likely holdings are at any given time, you'll have a massive edge.

From there, you can assign your opponent a bluffing frequency by looking at the missed draws and weak hands in his range in conjunction with what you know about his playing style.

Assign that bluffing frequency a percentage in your head, and if the pot odds you're getting are in your favor, make the call and watch the money pour in.

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FredThornton 2011-09-08 19:49:18

This is one of the most informative sites I have seen for people that take their poker seriously.

James Johnson 2009-06-26 16:06:00

Wonderful strategy, I appreciate!

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