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River Betting

The river is a unique round. During all previous rounds of betting, each person had a chance of improving his hand. On the river, bets are pure value bets or bluffs. There is no need to knock someone out, and it is impossible to semi-bluff. These changes in gameplay require an alteration in strategy. While each river is different, I will highlight three common situations where an advanced player can gain an edge.

Multi-way pot with semi-strong hand
Your Hand

You are in middle position. You wait for the check-raise. The button bets, small blind calls, you check-raise, button and small blind call your raise.

The turn comes another jack, so now you hold trips. You bet. The button and small blind call.

The river comes a ten, but there is no flush draw on the board.

Your Hand

Besides you, two other players are still in the pot. The small blind bets. It is your turn and the button is after you. What do you do?

Clearly, you do not fold. There is simply too much money in the pot to lay down trips with top kicker. So your two options are to raise or call. In this situation, I would definitely call. The reason is is that if you call, there is a high likelihood that the player on the button will call. However, if you raise, that player will probably fold. If you raise, the small blind will likely reraise you if he has you beat. However, he will only call you if you have him beat. Therefore, if you have the best hand, you will likely win the same amount whether you call or raise. However, if you hold the second-best hand, you will likely lose two more big bets if you raise instead of call.

So let's say there is a fifty percent chance you hold the winning hand. Let's also assume there is a fifty percent chance the button will call if you call but will always fold if you raise.

Now, we should analyze the proper play based on two scenarios: when you call, and when you raise.

If you call: If you call and lose, you will lose one bet. However, if you call and win, you will probably win 1.5 bets (50% chance button will call and lose to you).

If you raise: If you raise and have the losing hand, you will lose three bets. This is because the small blind will reraise you. If you have the winning hand, you will win two bets. The button will fold and the small blind will call your raise.

Obviously, this is an imperfect example. These probabilities are arbitrary, but they do prove a point. If you call, you expect to win .5 bets (1.5 when you win an 1 if you lose). If you raise, you expect to lose 1 bet (2 if you win, 3 if you lose). Thus, calling will earn you an expected value of 1.5 bets!

On the river, there is no need for you to worry about being drawn out. In the type of situations described above, you have a hand that can beat most hands. The few that can beat you are certainly not going to fold if you raise (they will much more likely reraise you). Thus, you are only focused on winning as many bets as possible or minimizing your losses if you hold the losing hand. Getting an extra bet by having someone call after you has just as much value as a call from someone you raised. When you have a strong, but potenitally beatable holding on the river, it is often better to allow people to make crying calls after you then to try to extract one more bet from one guy by raising him.

Heads up when you have been the aggressor
When you hold top pair in a heads-up pot, you are more than likely betting it through the flop and turn. Now, suppose the river forms a scary hand. What do you do?

It really depends on your position. Let's say you have position on him. For example, he is in mid-position and you are on the button. Your opponent checks. You are contemplating making a value bet, though you are wary of a check-raise. Let's say he will always raise if he has you beat and will always call if you have him beat. This means you need a 2/3 chance of winning to bet. This is because you will win one bet if you have the better hand and lose two if he has the better hand.

Of course there are situations where he will still just call with a better hand and not raise you. There are other times when he will raise you even when you have the better hand.

You will need to use your own judgment on whether to bet in these situations. There is very little I can offer as advice on this subject because this decision is so situational. Just bear in mind that you should not be scared if only one type of holding can beat you. Provided there are many second-best hands that will probably make a crying call, you should bet. However, if the only thing that he could be calling with is a draw that missed and any other hand that he could possibly hold will now beat you, you should probably check after him.

If you are in early position, you should be much more willing to bet. Why? Because even if he has a strong hand. he is going to bet or raise you. Thus, you lose only one more bet by initially betting. However, most of the time, he will probably not have hit that strong of a hand. He will still call you because the pot will be so large that he will need to make a crying call.

Even if he has a semi-strong hand, he may not raise you. When you bet to him, you show strength. He will be reluctant to raise becasue he will fear the reraise. However, if you check, he may sense weakness and will go for the bet. Therefore, whether you bet or check, you lose one bet. Your initial bet doesn't matter in this scenario.

Of course, there are some situations where you should not bet your made hand if you are first to bet. If you hold AJ and the board on the board is AJ5QT with a flush draw on the board, you should probably check. But the important point is that you should be more willing to bet when you are out of position on the river in Limit Hold'em.

Heads up when you have been drawing
If you hit a big draw, what do you do? If you have position on him, it's obvious. Bet and raise. You more than likely have the best hand, get your value out of it!

However, if you are out of position, it is much trickier. Do you go for the check-raise or do you go ahead and bet? It depends on your opponent.

If your opponent is very aggressive, I would recommend the check-raise. First, he may have nothing and has been bluffing into you the whole time. He may try to represent the flush, so go ahead and let him! Also, maniacs almost always go for value bets when the other player shows weakness, so a check-raise is in order.

However, if your player is tight, you should bet. These players get scared easily, especially by flush draws. If you hit some weird straight or trip, you can probably check-raise. But if you hit an obvious draw, you should bet.

If a tight player tends to fold to these river bets, then you should consider bluffing on the river in the future. In general, folding on the river is bad policy. See When to Fold for the reasons why. The tight player may have folded because he was bluffing or missed a draw. However, if it seems that a tight player is really willing to fold on the river, you should consider betting on the river in the future if you miss your draw but another scary draw comes. Players this tight are rare to come by, but you should take advantage of them when you find them.

Next Article: Hold'em Edges

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