Should You Call That River Min-Raise?

Dave Roemer | Poker Theory and Concepts

Here’s the scenario. With the blinds at 40-80 (12 ante) in a micro MTT, we’ve raised preflop with A♣K♥ to 176 from the HJ, and the BU calls. Seeing the flop heads up, we decide to continuation bet 174 into 580 on a 10♣6♦5♣ board, and the villain calls. The turn is the Q♦ and it goes check/check. The river comes the A♦ giving us top pair/top kicker, and completing a back door flush draw and back door straight draws. We elect to bet 320 into 928 going for some value, and the villain min-raises us to 640. Placing debate about the flop and turn choices aside, should we call this river raise?

This is a situation many new and aspiring players struggle with. Often players make this call with reasons like “top pair/top kicker is very strong” or “it’s just a small amount to call” and “we are getting an amazing price”. While these things sound good, they do not a good call make. It’s easy to get confused when the statements are true. The first one, top/top is very strong, isn’t really true… hand strength is relative, it may be a bona fide monster in some circumstances, and nothing more than a bluff catcher in others. But “it’s just a small amount to call” and “we are getting an amazing price” are true statements for sure. So let’s unpack what’s going on here, to help you make better decisions in the future.

First let’s start by quantifying that amazing price. We are being asked to call 320 more into a final pot of 2208, so we need the call to be right roughly 14.5% of the time to break even on this call. Now let’s talk about what hands we’re beating to see if we can determine if we have 14.5%. There’s exactly two types of hands we’re beating here:

1. Bluffs

Top/top beats all bluffs. How often are villains bluffing here? What makes sense is that they are never bluffing. We’ve played our hand in a way that looks a lot like AK/AJ to most players. The ace favors our range in this sequence. And they are choosing a sizing that does in fact give us a fantastic price while putting the bare minimum amount of pressure on us… a really poor choice if their goal is to make us fold. No doubt some readers are saying but it’s a micro MTT and players in micros do a lot of things that don’t make sense. Yes, this is true. I like to always allow what I call a “fudge factor” of 5-10% to account for times they are doing something with a hand we don’t expect in their range, or just a random bad nonsense play. In this case, given the factors above, this line is much more commonly a fish line with a strong hand… they know they want to raise, but are scared you’ll just fold and they won’t get paid off, so they compromise those 2 ideas and min-raise. I would give this situation my personal minimum fudge factor of 5%, added to no bluffs that make sense, and assume we are facing some weird bluff no more than 5% of the time total here.

2. “Value Bets” with worse

There are some situations where we have a very strong hand (a decent 2 pair+), and our opponent may legitimately be raising with a worse hand they simply think is good. An obvious example might be when we hold 77 on a run out of T732J and our opponent holds JT making top 2 pair on the river. In the case of our hand, this seems unlikely. The villain would have to be seriously overvaluing a weaker ace to raise us for value here. They also have to actually get to the river with ace high, which also seems unlikely. The most reasonable ace high holdings that might decide to call and float our flop continuation bet are the flopped nut flush draws, and perhaps the back door nut flush draws. But both of these are impossible here, as we hold the ace of clubs in our hand, and the ace of diamonds has appeared on the board. This seems like a very unlikely parlay, that they would have both floated the flop with ace high’s that don’t include the nut flush draw nor back door flush draws, then raise the river with just one pair on a river card that favors our range. This river min-raise is virtually always going to be something stronger than 1 pair, so even our best 1 pair hands aren’t going to be good facing it. So in this category, I would say that, similar to the bluffs category, there are really no worse made hands that make logical sense. And again I would assign at best a 5% fudge factor for someone just doing something randomly silly.

So if we add these up, my conclusion is we can expect to have a call be right here somewhere between 0-10% of the time, with the 10% being made up of poorly thought out nonsense/silly plays. Since we need to be right 14.5% of the time just to break even on the call, we should feel comfortable folding here despite the attractive price.

In conclusion, when on the river with a 1 pair hand and faced with a small raise, consider the potential bluffs that makes sense, as well as potential ambitious value bets from worse… if there are a lot of hands in those categories, the great price we are getting will be enough, while if there simply aren’t any hands that makes sense, it’s not only okay to fold, it’s probably the best play!

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