The Turn card is often the most critical card in every hand, therefore playing the River is usually fairly straightforward. The key to playing the River is the understanding of what your hand is worth. And to do this, it’s wise to ask yourself three basic questions before you bet in the River.
If you’re bluffing, there’s only one way you can win the pot, and that is to bet on River. If you’re sure that your hand isn’t good, your betting decision comes down to your expectations about whether or not your bluff is going to work. If you believe you can grab the pot, go get it and make that bluff! River bluff! Be a man! But if you think it won’t work, then check and concede the hand.
In other words, is there any hand, worse than mine, that my opponent has, that he will also call with? If you aren’t bluffing, you have to figure out if your opponent has a hand that is worse than yours, and that he’s nonetheless still willing to play with.
For example, let’s suppose you’re holding the Queen and Ten of Hearts, and the board has the King of Hearts, Eight of Hearts, and Queen of Diamonds. Basically, you flopped the second pair on a flush draw. Now, say, a Three and a Nine come off, and you didn’t make Two Pair. You didn’t make a Flush either, which means now you’re holding the second pair with a Ten kicker. It’s not great, but… Your opponent checks, and now you should decide whether to value bet. With the second pair, you’re certainly not bluffing, and your hand may actually be the best. It’s about 50/50 here. The question is: Is there a hand that is worse than yours that can call your bet; since there’s are very few cards your opponent could be holding that are worthy of calling but that aren’t necessarily worth raising? Betting here doesn’t really get you anywhere. And if, for whatever reason, your hand is beaten, the betting here will cost you money too. On this occasion, since betting doesn’t add any value for you, your best play is to check your hand on the River, and hope your pair holds up. But what if your opponent is holding Jack, Ten and a Nine? This may demonstrate he’s willing to check/raise you.
This question is about whether you should check down on the River. This is something poker players usually want to consider when they have a top pair of any other marginal hand; since you would likely have to fold to a raise from your opponent. Let’s take a look at an example.
Say, you have Ace and Nine, and the board is Ace, Ten, Eight, Seven, Deuce. If you bet, there’s no logical hand that will just call, since even Ace Jack has you beat! That means either your opponent will fold or you’ll get raised and have to fold your hand. Maybe a value bet here isn’t so bad: you can beat a Six, and an Ace Four, and an Ace Five, and Ace Three. You can beat a lot of Tens as well, but it’s still a no-win situation. There’s not much you can overcome. There won’t be any more money than what’s already in the pot, and your opponent might raise you off of your hand by a bluff or a hand that has you beat. So, checking your hand down is the smartest play you can make in the spot.
Also, this is the same problem you face when you open the action on the turn. Betting won’t bring you any more money, and you lose the whole pot when you’re check/raised or bluffed. And, in case of facing a better hand, you lose money you could have saved by just checking your hand down.
By following these hints, you can minimize your poker losses on the River, by not making unnecessary bets in cases when it won’t bring you any more money. We’ve only listed the basic situations here, but it’s more than enough to develop a line of thought to help you determine whether or not it’s practical to bet on the River.
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