Playing The River
The river is a unique street to play due to the fact that there is no potential for players to improve their hands. The final card has been dealt, and players are forced to make the best 5-card hand possible, regardless of how God-awful they might be.
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River strategy tips.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few tips for playing the river in Texas Holdem.
- Avoid betting with marginal hands. It is actually better to check and call.
- Betting big is more profitable than betting small, even if you do not always get called.
- Avoid making wild bluffs. It is often very easy to spot unless you are careful.
- Checking is a valuable play on the river. It is far from being a weak move.
Never ever bet marginal hands.
One of the most horrible mistakes you can ever make in Texas Hold'em is betting with a mediocre hand on the river. If you bet with a hand that you are not sure is the winner, there are only going to be negative outcomes:
- Your opponent calls with a stronger hand.
- Your opponent folds a weaker hand - so no benefit to us at all.
- You do not offer your opponent the opportunity to bluff with a weaker hand.
In all of the situations above, we have not benefited from making a bet in any form. We have simply shot ourselves in the foot in every possible way.
If you have a marginal hand on the river and you are not sure whether you have the best hand, it is always better to check rather than bet. This gives our opponent an opportunity to bluff, as opposed to us only ever being called with a better hand.
If you think you have the best hand, bet big.
As a general rule, it is better to make a big bet as opposed to a small bet if you think that you have the best hand. You may well get called less often, but you will still be making more money in the long run.
For example, lets say we are on the river and we have the best hand. The pot is $20 and we are deciding on how much we should bet.
- If we bet $20, we get called 3 times out of 10.
- If we bet $5, we get called 9 times out of 10.
So, let's say we repeated this situation 10 times for each bet.
- We win $60 by betting $20.
- We win $45 by betting $5.
As you can see, the bigger the bet, the more we win. It may seem as though you are winning more by getting lots of little calls, but it's the bigger bets that pull in the money. So don't be afraid to bet the size of the pot on the river when you feel that you have the best of it.
(If you're interested in bet sizing and stuff, have a read over the article on betting strategy.)
Be careful when bluffing on the river.
A very common mistake made by new players to Texas Hold'em is to make wild bluffs on the river. Very often, a player will miss their draw or find themselves with a poor hand on the river, and so they make a last ditch effort to win the pot with a wild bluff. More often than not, the bluff gets called and the player is left feeling a little silly.
The problem with most river bluffs is that they come from out of the blue, and they look totally out of place in the hand. Every hand has it's own story, and the bluff on the river from a player that has been playing very passively up to that point looks very peculiar to say the least.
The majority of last-ditch attempts to win the pot will fail, so be very wary of recklessly bluffing on the river.
So, the next time you plan on bluffing the river, think about how the rest of the hand played out. If your bet is in keeping with the rest of the hand and makes it look as though you genuinely have the best hand, then by all means try it. Just be sure to avoid betting with your eyes closed in the hope that your opponent will fold - it's not a very good strategy, trust me.
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Playing the river overview.
If you were to take one thing away from this article (hopefully more, but if it's just the one then so be it), it should be that checking can be a very profitable option. In fact, I would say that it is an essential move when it comes to playing the river profitably.
On other streets, checking can be seen as a weak play that is best avoided unless necessary, but on the river it is an essential tactic that can save you a lot of money when you are not sure if you have the best hand.
You should approach the river a little differently to other betting rounds due to the fact that there are no more cards to come, and so there is no potential for you or your opponent to improve.
Playing a hand.
Go back to the sublime Texas Hold'em guide.
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