The river is a different type of betting round than the flop or turn since all cards have now been shown. Most players make quick decisions on the river without thinking through the various possibilities. Matthew Hilger is a professional poker player and respected author. In addition to the many articles on his own website, he writes columns for CardPlayer magazine, PokerPages.com and PokerinEurope.com. Matthew's next book, Texas Hold'em Odds and Probabilities: Limit, No-Limit and Tournament Strategies, will be released in June 2006. Matthew's website is www.internettexasholdem.com
Betting correctly on the river is important as these are big bets and each bet made or saved can significantly add to your earnings rate.
A common mistake made by many players is betting or raising the river whenever they think they have the best hand. Do not make this same mistake! Only bet or raise a good hand on the river against a lone opponent when you have at least a 50% chance of winning when your opponent calls. The key part of this concept is that you win more than your fair share when your opponent calls. Many times you will bet the river and your opponent folds. That bet hasn’t gained you anything.
Let’s look quickly at an example. You hold Q
with a K
board. You bet out on the flop and turn and are called each time. You determine that the most likely holding for this opponent is a flush draw. Should you bet the river? The answer is no since your opponent will fold if he was on a flush draw. Betting will gain you nothing. A better option would be to induce a bluff by checking.
Many opponents with a busted draw may see your check as a sign of weakness and won’t be able to resist betting as a last chance bluff to win the pot. In this case, checking gains you a bet while betting out probably gains you nothing.
On the other hand, if you are against an aggressive player who tends to call too often with weak pairs then it is probably correct to bet. It is unlikely your opponent holds a pair of kings since an aggressive opponent probably would have raised either the flop or turn. He most likely would have raised a flush draw also at some point. In this situation, betting could be correct since you will win over 50% of the time when your opponent calls with a weak pair. The reasoning however is different. You check if you believe your opponent was on a draw, and you bet if you are reasonably confident that your opponent will call with a weaker hand than a pair of kings.
You need more than a 50% chance of winning when there is the risk that your opponent could raise with a better hand and you would call. In this case, you might lose two big bets against a very good hand and only win one bet against a weak hand, so you need more than a 50% chance of winning to justify this risk. For example, if you have roughly a 50% chance of winning a showdown but there is a 5% chance your opponent would raise and a 70% chance he would win when raising, you should just check and call rather than betting out.
There are a lot of considerations you must make when betting into a lone opponent on the river with a good hand:
- Probability that you will win in a showdown (should be at least 50%)
- Probability that your opponent would raise and you would call
- Probability that your opponent would bet a weaker hand if you check but fold this hand if you came out betting
- Probability that your opponent would check a losing hand that he would call with if you had bet
Let’s discuss the second bullet point a little further. Sometimes your opponent will raise and you will fold. This doesn’t necessarily make your river bet incorrect. For example, you hold AA against a known opponent and a board of AKQ5T. Betting in this situation would be correct if you know that your opponent would only raise with the jack but would call with two pair and you are unsure if he would bet two pair if you check. If you bet and he raises, you can safely fold, losing the same amount as checking and calling. If you bet and he calls with two pair, you gain a bet. Your expectation is the same when he has the jack, but you gain a bet when he doesn’t. The decision process is a little more complicated against tricky opponents who might try a bluff raise.
Another option when acting first on the river is to check-raise. There are two reasons to try a check-raise with a strong hand on the river:
- To induce a bluff.
- To gain more bets when you are confident that an opponent will bet and call your raise.
For example, you hold Q
with a board of K
. Your opponent raised your flop bet and bet the turn, so you are fairly certain he will bet the river. This would be a good time for a check-raise to try and gain two bets.
This scenario would be different however if the board was K
. Do you see why? In this case, the bettor may be worried that you were on a flush draw since the flop was two-suited. A check-raise in this case might backfire if your opponent decides to check. You lose a bet if he would have called. Check-raises also gain you nothing if your opponent doesn’t call your raise but would have called your bet.
One more situation that occurs on the river is when you are against several opponents and are faced with a bet and you have a very strong hand. Sometimes consider just calling rather than raising your strong hands to get the remaining opponents to call. This is especially true if there is even a small chance that the bettor has the nuts and will reraise or there is a good chance you might split the pot with the bettor.
For example, if you hold Q
with a J
board, you should just call if there are opponents behind you. You probably are going to split the pot with the bettor, so it is best to give your remaining opponents a chance to call. In addition, there is the possibility that your opponent holds KQ and would reraise costing you money.
There are a lot of different considerations to work through on the river. I suggest that on the river that you always take a little extra time before acting to give yourself the time to consider all of the options available rather than the one that appears most obvious.