Betting on the River

I want to take the opportunity of writing an article on this particular topic, even though it will be a short one, not because it's a particularly difficult concept, but because it's something that is easily explained, but commonly incorrectly played.

The key-point is this:
If you intend to bet on the river, make sure that there's value in it.

What does that mean? It means that if you bet, you either hope for better hands to fold, or for worse hands to call. (Of course, you're hoping for that on any street, but it's accentuated on the river, because worse hands no longer have a chance to improve.)

Let's look at a not-entirely-uncommon example:

You're holding 2 2♣, and the board shows: A♣ 10♣ 8♣ 6♥ 6♣

You're heads-up, it's checked to you. Do you bet?

Against somewhat decent competition, the answer is "no". A worse hand will not call here, and a better hand will not fold. Of course, if you're playing truly awful opponents, it's possible that you might get called by something like a pair of aces, because they want to "keep you honest", but don't count on it.*

Betting on the RiverIf you get called, you will probably be beat. When that happens, you will regret betting. If you bet, and your opponent folds - did you really gain anything? No - he most likely had the worse hand anyway, and so if it had gone to showdown, you would have gained the same amount anyway. This is a situation where you, in most cases, will simply not gain anything from betting, but you stand to lose one big bet if you're called.

In conclusion: If you're betting a legitimate hand, ask yourself this: Will a worse hand call? Will a better hand fold? Will you win the majority of times that you're called?

Making the right decisions in situations like these can be the one thing that pushes you from being a losing player to a winning player. Make the most of it.

* Against so-called "Calling Stations", you should be much more inclined to bet the river with decent - but not monster - hands. The answer to the question "will they call with worse hands" so often comes up as "yes" that it makes it worth it.

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