Not long ago, we looked at three questions you should ask yourself about your hand before you decide to bet on the river. Now we’re going to look at how you can get the most value out of your hand when you do decide to wager. Talking value better here, ladies and gentlemen!
Once you decide that betting on the river makes sense, and you’re not likely to get raised by an opponent who’s bluffing, and you’re also holding a better hand, the question finally arises:
The only real way to answer that question is to understand your opponent. Anyone holding a hand worse than yours is likely to be worried about whether they’re ahead or not. The fact is, they’re not expected to call a massive bet on the river. This means that even a bet on half of the pot can sometimes be ‘too much.’ And if you do bet big on the river, the only hands that are likely to call are ones that have you beat, which is a whole different kind of a disaster!
That doesn’t always mean that you have to make a small bet on the river, though. This is because, if you’re facing the right opponent, you can sometimes bet your hand very big, and still get paid off.
Let’s say you’re holding a big hand, like a set or a flush on the river, and you are facing an aggressive opponent. If you bet big on the river, he may call with a worse hand, because he reads you as being weak, and thinks you’re trying to chase him out of the pot. In this case, you’re making a powerful hand look like a bluff, in order to get your opponent to try to pick you off, and to try and make a huge hero call with the worst hand. Knowing who you’re up against is the key to knowing how much money your hand is worth on the river! Against timid opponents, you’re naturally going to bet a lower amount, because they’re not going to put a lot of money into the pot if they think they’re behind. But against aggressive opponents, you can sometimes bet a much, much larger sum than they’d expect; because your hand will look weak to such an opponent. Sometimes you should make a massive bet against such aggressive players, to make them think you’re bluffing, and make them stack all their chips.
Some players who are actually pretty good in all other aspects of poker, tend to check in cases considered optimal for betting. Dan Harrington, as well as many other poker pros, have called this phenomenon one of the most costly and common mistakes. Its roots lie in human psychology, and can be shortly described like this: when facing a situation that lacks certainty, most people tend to play it safe, even if they know that they have a good chance of succeeding. Checking in a situation where betting brings you a higher outcome, is exactly the thing. If you play to win, you should remember about this, and avoid such passive, weak decisions whenever possible.
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