There can be difficult decisions for more money on the river, but all the cards are out and you know the final value of your hand. Some common river situations will be explained in this section. As with all of poker, your decisions will be based on experience, hand reading and position.
Here is a common situation:
You’re out of position on the river and have TPTK on a pretty non-threatening board. Your opponent has called your preflop raise, your flop bet, and your turn bet so far. So you know he’s made the calls, but its hard telling what type of hand he has. I’ll get more into hand reading later, but for now let’s answer the question of what to do on the river.
Should you bet again? Sometimes. It depends on the player. If the player is a good opponent or a habitual bluffer you’re better off checking instead of betting. Checking allows that person to make a mistake. If you bet again, a busted draw or other missed hand will not call; it will either fold or bluff raise. Both of those are terrible outcomes unless you have a really strong hand.
If the opponent actually does have a strong hand, then he will still not just call your river bet, he will raise it. If you check, you get the maximum value for your hand because not only do you give him a chance to bluff but you also lose less when behind. But remember – this only applies in certain situations. Once again, experience is key. Many other times you will be up against weak opponents and your best play is to just value bet your decently strong hands all the way down.
There are two advantages to betting on the river though (again, depending on the circumstances). One is for a blocking bet – you bet an amount that is the most you would like to pay for a showdown. The blocking bet is used when you are unsure of whether your hand is good or not. It is only used when your opponent has position on you. A blocking makes it much more expensive for your opponent to bluff raise or raise a speculative hand. Most people are aware of blocking bets so they must be used with discretion. There are many good players who raise any time they suspect a blocking bet but thankfully most of those players won’t be found at the smaller stakes.
The second advantage to betting on the river is for value. Fish always think you’re bluffing so it makes sense to value bet the river when there is a good chance they will call with worse hands. The same applies for the table sheriff who likes to make big calls to keep you honest.
When you’re lucky enough to end up with a big hand on the river, don’t be afraid to make big bets. Over betting (betting a larger amount than the pot) is not recommended, but neither is making tiny bets that are assured to get calls. Whenever you do manage to make a big hand, go for the gold. If your opponent doesn’t have a hand, he is usually going to fold anyways, so you might as well put that opponent in a difficult situation the times he does have a decent hand.
Your job is to put the big bet out there and let your opponents make their own mistakes. They will pay you off more often than you think. But again; remember that everything is situationally dependent. Don’t just go blindly smashing all your chips in the middle every time. If your opponent is extra timid or he likes to bluff-raise blocking bets, then you should consider a smaller bet from time to time.
Quick word of advice – don’t go broke on a rivered two-pair. Let’s say you have bottom pair in a 4-way pot, it gets checked around twice and then the river brings a nice looking two-pair to you. Don’t get in a huge betting war with someone and lose your whole stack this way. This mistake happens all the time and people wonder why they are so unlucky. When all the cards are out, the pot is small, and someone is willing to put their entire stack in, its highly unlikely that they have a lower two pair or a single pair. Do not make the mistake of putting your whole stack behind an iffy hand in a small pot.
River bluffs should be made very sparingly. In fact, most small stakes players would make more money if they entirely dropped river bluffs from their arsenal. The skill level is low and player pool is large enough that people aren’t going to catch on that you rarely or never bluff the river. Many people lose way too much money pulling hopeless river bluffs.
If it’s a small pot on the river, that means everyone has been given free cards and the chances are too high that someone has hit something – compounding this is that since the pot is small your river bluff will also be small and it will be easily called. An overbet bluff into a small pot is just money spewing. The large risk is not worth the small reward.
If there is a large pot on the river, that means you have been getting some sort of action with either a made hand or a draw. You don’t want to bluff into a made hand of course and you will not be up against draws often enough to make risking large chunks of your stack worth it. On top of that, you will be ahead of the draws many times anyways so you might as well take the free showdown whenever possible.
If you suspect a river bluff against you, call it cold and end the betting. There is no reason to raise unless you have a strong hand. Do not raise on the river as a re-bluff. That is too expensive and people will not fold if they do happen to have something. This is not to say you should never bluff raise the river but its just that there are other more important skills small stakes players should master before worrying about third level thinking and putting whole stacks in the middle with air. Use the river bluff raise very sparingly.