When playing deeper stacked No Limit Hold’em, whether it be in a tournament or cash game, you will at times be facing river decisions. Since bet sizing in NLHE is typically relative to the size of the current pot, the river action is often where large mistakes are made, where large gains and losses take place. Today let’s explore some things you can do to improve your river results.
Value Bet More
People generally seem afraid to value bet the river. I’m not talking about a monster hand; I’m talking more about hands like top pair. Let’s take an example: You raise in middle position with KQs and get flat called by the button, SB, and BB. The flop comes K73 with 2 hearts and it checks to you. You elect to continuation bet and only the button calls. Turn is an offsuit 4 and you bet again, and they call. The river is an offsuit 8. Bet again! I’m astounded at the number of times I’ve seen someone check the river here and get no value from hands like KT, A7, 55 and the like. Unless they have specifically K8s we are highly likely to have the best hand.
They may well have re-raised us preflop with AK. If they flopped a set, they would have almost certainly raised us already, either on the flop due to the multiway nature of the pot, or on the turn, before a scary river can come off that completes the flush or 4 to a straight. Checking the river to induce bluffs from busted flush draws doesn’t make us nearly as much money as value betting. There are more made hands than busted draws in villain’s range, and most players don’t bluff enough on the river anyway. KT is no doubt happy to receive a free showdown… why give them one?
Let’s take that one step further, and change the river to be the 8 of hearts, completing the flush. Often players simply check and call here. The problem is many opponents will simply check behind us and showdown their worse made hands, and only bet when they actually do have the flush. We will do much better firing out a value bet when this is the case.
Size River Bets to Accomplish More
In conjunction with the above, we also want to come up with good river value bet sizing. Consider what hands in the opponent’s range we are targeting for value, and size accordingly. If we are betting the nuts, and suspect the opponent may have a strong second best hand, sizing large like pot or even larger than the pot makes a lot of sense. It’s hard to fold big hands, and opponents are willing to pay big bets with them as a result.
Conversely, say we are going for some thin value with AJ on a board of J76K6. We are targeting Jx, 7x, 88 etc for value. It’s hard to call a big bet with 2nd or 3rd pair, but it’s hard to fold those same hands to a smaller bet. You’ll draw more of these calls by making them the small offer they can’t refuse, than a large bet their hand strength doesn’t warrant calling.
Fold to River Raises
Obviously, not if we have the nuts. But one pair, even the strongest of pairs, is not the nuts. Let’s take our example above with the KQs, where the river is the 8h completing the flush. We can expect our bet to get called by a number of worse kings in their range, but what if they raise? Are they bluffing to represent the flush? Maybe… but less often than you think.
Many players don’t even have river bluff raising in their repertoire if they raise the river they simply have it. Now what is “it” in another player’s mind may be subjective, but “it” is always better than one pair. You may get bluffed off the occasional pot folding to river raises, but you will save a lot of money in the long run… and money not lost spends just as well as money won.
Tailor your River Action to your Opponent
So far above, we’ve discussed readless situations. If you have reads on the opponent, like what kind of player they are, you can and should tailor your actions to exploit those reads for even more profit. If the player is sticky, a calling station, or someone who hates to be bluffed, then you can value bet an even wider range of medium strength hands that other less astute players may simply check down. If the player is a tight, conservative, or scared type, then we will not be able to value bet our more marginal hands because they simply won’t call with enough worse holdings… but we should work in more bluffs as this type will fold at a high frequency to large river bets.
Many people miss out on a lot of potential profit on the river by failing to value bet frequently enough. Many lose more than they should by paying off big river actions with inadequate holdings. Most, do both these things to some extent. A lot of money is won and lost on the river by paying off too much, failing to extract value with enough of one’s range, or missing sound bluff opportunities for lack of recognition or the will to pull the trigger. If you work on improving this aspect of your game, you may just see your results soar.