playing poker

Tip 38
Playing on the River

After the dealer puts the river card on the board, your hand is complete.  At this point, you might have a big hand (such as a full house or flush), a decent hand (such as top pair or an overpair to the board), or a missed hand (such as a busted straight draw).  If you feel you have the winner, you should usually bet when the action gets to you.  If you are unsure whether your hand is best, you have the option of either checking and hoping for the best, you have the option of either checking and hoping for the best in a showdown or checking with the intention of calling someone else’s bet.

Bluffs Rare Succeed in Low-Limit Games

When you miss your hand, you might be tempted to take a stab at the pot by bluffing.  A word of caution, however: Bluffing rarely succeeds in low-limit hold’em.  With several bets in the pot, it costs you only one bet to attempt a bluff.  This gives you a good price.  (The pot might be laying you odds of 10-to-1 or better, meaning your bluff needs to succeed only a small percentage of the time to be a profitable play.) Nevertheless, in loose low-limit games, even 10-to-1 or better odds might not be enough to justify attempting a bluff, as someone will call you nearly every time.

A Good Bluffing Situation

One situation exists in which a bluff is more apt to be successful, however, and if you incorporate this play into your game it should increase your profits.  Specifically, a good time to bluff is when you are against only one or two opponents, and a scare card*  comes on the river.  For example, suppose you have been calling the whole way with a flush draw.  The board shows: 5-6-J-7-8.  Now, any 4 or 9 makes a straight, and if you bet out with confidence when the 8 hits, your bluff has a reasonable chance of success. It won’t work every time, but should succeed often enough to be a profitable play.  It doesn’t have to work even most of the time.  It just has to work more than the pot odds indicate.  For example, if the pot has five big bets and your bluff succeeds more than one-sixth of the time, you profit.  Out of six times the situation comes up, say you lose one bet five times out of six, that’s a loss of five bets.  One time you win the pot, because your opponents fold, and that’s a gain of five bets.  That’s exactly break-even.  But if your bluff succeeds more than that (more than one time in six), you profit.  Just don’t make this bluff if one of your opponents is a calling station.

  Another good example of a scare card is an ace on the river.  Chances are, if your opponent is holding a pocket pair, he won’t like the ace, and he just might lay down his hand.  Of course, if he happens to have an ace, you will get called.  That’s why they call it gambling, though.

*  Scare card:  A scary-looking card for the situation.  When two of one suit are on the board, the appearance of a third card of that suit may be a scare card of that suit may be a scare card for anyone for whom that card does not make a flush.  If you had two pair when there were three spades on the board, you might worry about someone having the needed two spades with which to make the flush.  And if the third of a suit is a scare card, the fourth suited card is even more so.

Tip 39 Last to act

Say an opponent has bet and you are the last player standing between him and the pot.  It is now your job to determine the likelihood that you hold the best hand.  To do this, you must consider not only your hand, but also the way the hand has played out.  If your opponent has bet hand all the way through, and there were no real draws out there, it is pretty likely that he can beat middle pair.  On the other hand, if you were the bettor, and now your opponent bets the river when a flush card appears, you need to consider how likely it is that he has drawn out on you.
  In this situation, you can put your hand’s chances into four categories:

  • Best hand:  you’re 85 percent you have the winner
  • Toss-up hand:  you have about a 50-50 chance of winning
  • Longshot hand:  you have less than a 50 percent chance of holding the winner
  • Busted draw:  you have virtually no chance of holding the win

You should always at least call when you hold what you consider to be either the best hand or a toss-up hand.  Since your chances of winning are 50 percent or better, you are getting the correct price from the pot to make the call.  The more certain you are that you have opponent might have with which to call.

The water gets murkier when you hold a longshot hand.  Here, you need to know the size of the pot, so you can accurately assess the price you are getting.  For example, if there is $ 72 in the pot and it costs you $ 8 to call, the pot is laying you a price of 9-to-1.  Your hand needs to win only one time in 10 for calling to be correct.  So, not only should you know how much is in the center, you should also be able to make a good estimation of your chances of winning the pot.  With practice, you can develop this skill.
The lesson of longshot hands is that you can call fairly often on the river if you feel you have a decent chance of winning the pot.  You need not be correct every time, or even most of the time, for calling to be the proper play.  At the same time, make sure you are realistic.  Don’t throw money away in situations in which your opponent is 95 percent certain to have you beat.  Experience and focus in the game help you become skilled at accurately determining your chances of winning the pot.