Poker-Playing the River

The river is where fortunes are won and lost in Texas Holdem, and it can be a stressful place in any game of live or online at  All the cards have come out, hopefully you know where you stand, and have at least some idea of where your opponent stands. If you can play the river at least slightly better than your average opponent, you stand a good chance of coming out ahead over the course of your poker play. If not, you could be in for some serious hits to your bankroll. Without the capability to make the right decision on the river, your long-term winning chances are practically non-existent more often than not.  When youre last to act and facing a huge bet, all that remains is to decide whether or not you are going to see your hand to the end. If you have a borderline hand that is unlikely to win if you call, you will occasionally be lucky and get to show your hand down cheaply. On other occasions you will be confident that you have the best hand and raise all-in in the face of a big bet. But countless times you will have a hand that you think may be good but are not sure.  There are no definite answers that tell you what to do in this situation, and depending on your opponent the answer to the question might seem contradictory. That said, here are some guidelines to navigate the action after the river.

A Big Bet Does Not Necessarily Mean a Bluff

There are many players who always go all in on the river with the nuts, even if it is a big overbet. They figure that there is a chance that their play will read as a bluff, and if they get called even one time it is worth it.

A Big Bet Does Not Necessarily Mean a Big Hand

On the other hand, a big bet out of context should be cause for doubt. If a player has been making no effort to build a pot and then makes a huge bet on the river, especially if the board shows a busted straight or flush draw, you should give serious consideration to the possibility that this player is on a steal.

If You Can Only Beat a Bluff

You should be reluctant to call a big bet on the river if you can only beat a bluff. Think of the range of hands your opponent may be betting with and see where your hand fits in. Consider the play of the hand and see if it is consistent with a hand that beats you. Sometimes your opponent will be bluffing and it is a great feeling to make a big hero call and be right, but often, your opponent will have the hand he is representing. Proceed with caution.

Pay Close Attention throughout the Hand to Avoid Difficult River Decisions

You should have an idea of what you are going to do on the river before the river card is even dealt. Poker is a strategy game, which means you need to be thinking a few moves ahead in order to be successful.  You cant play each street in isolation, figuring that you will decide what to do when you get there. Before you call or make a bet on the turn, you should have an idea what you will do on the river if a scare card comes, if a scare card does not come, if your opponent bets big, if your opponent bets small, if your opponent checks. The more possibilities you consider earlier in the hand, the easier decisions will be later.  Furthermore, you must be observant and consider the play of the hand all the way through. Try to put your opponent on a range of hands, and ask yourself if the way they played the hand up until this point is consistent with the big river bet. If it is, its okay to lay your hand down. If its not, you may have to trust your instincts and call.

Trust Your Read

There are a number of cases where you should be willing to call a big bet on the river. One is if the opponents bet is not consistent with how he played the hand. If hes been check calling on a two heart board to the river and suddenly tosses in all his chips on a big overbet, theres a good chance that he missed his draw and is bluffing. Of course, this may be what he wants you to think so there is some situational dependent thinking involved, but this is something to consider.  Another is if you have a good hand and have checked to induce a bluff. If you checked hoping he would bet and he does, its not time to get cold feet. Go with your read and call.

Test your abilities playing the river different ways with low-stakes play at  It’s a great way to practice and improve your poker skill.

February 7, 2011 by : Posted in Poker No Comments

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