There are few feelings in poker that are better than running a great bluff, but making an incredible call with a bluff catcher might be even better! A bluff catcher is a hand that really isn’t that strong - maybe even just ace high - but it does beat the hands your opponent could be bluffing with.
So, how do we know if the situation is right to make a hero call? Here are 5 tips for knowing if you have a good bluff catcher.
1. Check your odds
In poker, you don’t have to be right every time you make a call. If you run the same hand a thousand times and you win it more than you lose, it’s the right call. What percentage of the time does your opponent have the hand they are representing, and what percentage of the time is a bluff? Normally, we don’t have to win as much as we think for the risk/reward ratio of a bluff catcher to be profitable. Against a pot bet, we need to win at least 1 out of 3 times. Against a half pot bet, we only need to win 1 in 4! Based on their actions and your history with them, do you think they’re bluffing enough in this spot for you to make a profitable call? Then go for it!
2. Review the action
A good bluff needs to make sense, all the way through. Is the story your opponent is telling confusing? Does the size of their bet not make sense with how they’ve been playing this hand through the other streets? For example, the opponent has checked behind a flush-draw flop, then calls my probe bet on the turn. Then they raise my pot river bet when the flush is completed, well…this is a bit suspicious. He is representing a hand that is very rare to have because he would have c-bet almost always all the nut flush draws on the flop. For this reason, he is probably bluffing, and it’s up to you to catch him!
3. Consider the strength of your hand
Think about all the different hands you would have played in this way, in this situation. If we make a ranking of all the hands you would reach the river with, and you’re holding the top of your range, you should be more likely to make that hero call. Your opponent will also be trying to put you on a range of hands, and they will probably assume you have worse than you do. Depending on the amount your opponent bets, you will have to call with the best of your range, even if it is JUST a bluff catcher.
4. Pay attention to blockers
Blockers are cards that make it less likely that our opponent has the top of their range. If we hold the Ace of spades on a 3 spade board, they can’t have the nut flush. If they’re playing the hand like they do, alarm bells should start ringing. Or, let’s say the board is QJ4K6 with no flush draws. You have TT in your hand so you’re holding half of the tens available. If they’re playing the river like they have broadway, you should be suspicious. If we’re blocking our opponent’s strongest hands, we should be making more bluff catching calls.
5. Think about relative strength
Your bluff catcher does NOT need to be a strong hand; in fact, by definition, it isn’t. But it DOES have to beat the hands your opponent might be bluffing with. There’s nothing worse than knowing they’re bluffing, making the call and STILL losing to a better hand. Think carefully about how they played the earlier streets and which hands they might have, that reached all the way to the river. Maybe they were on a flush draw which didn’t get there. You could make a good read and call with king high, but if they were on the nut flush draw, they will still beat you with only ace high. Knowing your opponent is bluffing is only half the battle. Being able to beat them at showdown, is the other half.