Back to Articles

The apestyles guide: When to defend on the river

The apestyles guide: When to defend on the river

There aren’t many poker players on earth who have faced more river decisions than Jonathan “apestyles” Van Fleet.

While it often feels like our opponents always “have it” when they bet the river, the truth is that of course, they don’t. The skill comes in determining whether they’re betting for value or to bluff, and to know when we should defend on the river.

In his Back to Basics bundle for BBZ, apestyles dedicates a seminar to defending versus river bets. Let’s get to it.


The villain’s betting range should be polarized between hands above 50% equity–their value range–and hands approaching 0% equity–their bluffs.

This is especially true when the villain is in position. Think about it: if they have a hand that has a chance of winning the pot at showdown, they’re most likely going to check back. “It doesn’t make much sense to turn a hand with 20% equity into a bluff as you can just check and win 20% of the pot,” says apestyles.

But things are different when the villain is out of position. With you to act behind them, they don’t have the luxury of deciding how to close or proceed in the action. Therefore, it’s down to us to determine whether they’re betting for value or bluffing.


When facing a river bet, apestyles splits his own range into three categories:


The first thing you need to ask yourself is: is there a worse hand the villain could be betting for value?

If the answer is yes, then how you proceed is pretty simple, according to apestyles.

“If we have a value holding, we either call or raise,” he says.

Bluff catcher

A bluff catcher is essentially a hand that can beat all bluffs but can’t beat anything the villain would be betting for value.

“The nature of bluff catchers is that they’re indifferent between calling and folding versus a balanced betting range,” says apestyles.


If a single bluff can beat our hand, it goes in the trash pile. “I’ve seen people call down with king-high when they’re being bluffed by a better king-high,” says apestyles. “I’ve even done it before myself.”

Just make sure your bluff catcher can beat ALL bluffs before you click the call button.

Product thumbnail

apestyles Bundle

A classroom webinar series teaching you winning MTT strategies



In the apestyles bundle, apestyles provides a formula we can use to determine this.

Divide the size of the bet (B) by the size of the total pot including the bet (P) then subtract 1. So:

[B/P] – 1

For example, if the villain makes a half-pot bet of 50, the pot size is now 150. 50 divided by 150 minus 1 = ~67% or two thirds.

This means we need to defend two-thirds of our range on the river versus a half pot bet and half of our range versus a pot-size bet.

“I think it’s good to be able to visualise what per cent of our range we’re supposed to be defending,” says apestyles. “It’s impossible to get it exactly right, but I think it’s useful in trying to determine what bluff catchers we’re supposed to be using, etc.”


We now know that when facing a pot-size bet on the river, we should be defending at least 50% of our range.

But which 50%?

“Let’s say we have ⅓ value, ⅓ bluff catchers, and ⅓ trash,” says apestyles. “All 33% of our value hands either call or raise. In this case, about half of our bluff catchers are calling, adding up to around 50%. All trash is folded, although we can sometimes raise if our blockers are really good.”

The difficulty is determining which 50% of your bluff catchers should call. The way you should do this is by selecting individual bluff catchers according to how they block your opponent’s value range.

“The truth is, the population is under bluffing rivers,” says apestyles. “My general recommendation when you’re holding a bluff catcher is to lean towards folding unless you have a good reason to call. You can call more often when you’re facing a small bet or when your cards blocking value and unblocking their bluffing range.”

Product thumbnail

apestyles Bundle

A classroom webinar series teaching you winning MTT strategies


Related Articles

Shopping cart

No products in the cart.

View cart