October 3, 2011

Catching a Bluff

We all like to bust bluffs, don’t we? Not only does the catching of one’s opponent with his/her pants down offer a weird kind of extremely fulfilling satisfaction, keeping the opposition honest is also a financially rewarding move. The ideal way to bust the bad guy is to pick up something at least relatively solid, unfortunately, that’s only seldom possible. Most of the time, you will have to catch bluffs with weak junk: with hands known as bluff catchers.
How exactly would we define a bluff catcher? It is a hand which doesn’t carry any kind of other value. Unless you manage to bust a bluff with it, the bluff catcher is fairly worthless. Betting a bluff catching hand for value is not an option, because the chances of your opponent making a call with a worse hand are non-existent. If your opponent is value-betting, such hands will be destroyed against his value betting range so that’s not an option either. There’s only one way to squeeze any kind of value with these hands and that’s by busting a bluff.

How do you recognize such bluff-catching hands? First of all: a bluff catching hand can only come about by the river, because a bluff catcher always wraps up the action: once one makes the call with it, the hands need to be shown.
Indentifying a bluff-catcher isn’t a straightforward deal, but then again nothing in poker is. There are a whole bunch of variables which make or break bluff catchers: your table image, your opponent’s bluffing frequency, the general flow of action at the table etc. The bottom line is that in order to be able to spot a bluff catcher, you need to be aware of everything that goes on at the table.
Only by getting to know your opponent thoroughly will you be able to know their value-betting range, and once you know that, all you have to do is to assess whether your hand is behind or ahead of that range.

If it is behind, you have a bluff catcher on your hands.
Learning your opponent’s bluffing frequency is extremely important because if your bluff-catching candidate isn’t particularly strong against his value-betting range, the only way you can call with it profitably is if his bluffing frequency is high.
Here’s an example: consider a particular spot. Your opponent bluffs around 50% of the time in that spot, and you get 2.5-1 odds on your call. If everything does indeed click, then you have a profitable call on your hands in that spot.

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