Limit Hold'em: The River old

When all the cards have been dealt and we're in the final round of betting, play becomes very different from the play on the flop and the turn. On the river there are no more draws, since the river is the last community card and after it's dealt you can't expect any more help from the board. Nevertheless, playing the river correctly is often not easy. Every wrong decision can cost us one or even more big bets.

Don't fold the best hand on the river

Since the pot is usually big on the river, we get good pot odds, and most often have to call only one bet: it's in most cases correct to call even with marginal hands such as middle pair.

If the size of the pot after the turn is, for example, 7 big bets, and our opponent bets on the river, then we get pot odds of 8:1. This means that we have to win the pot at least once in every nine cases to make the call profitable. Folding the best hand costs us the whole pot, calling with the weaker hand only costs 1 big bet!

However, we also have to take the opponents' playing styles into account here. Very tight players, for example, bluff so seldom that calling a river bet usually isn't profitable.

Another important indicator is of course the betting sequence up to this point: what did our opponents do pre-flop, on the flop and on the turn? With a little practice we can often work out pretty accurately what our opponents are holding. And that makes playing the river much easier.

Nevertheless, many players have problems to fold hands that obviously have no chance of winning a showdown.

Folding on the river

There are situations in which folding on the river, despite the (very) good pot odds, is the correct decision. Opposed to this is the fact that we are often interested in seeing our opponent's hand, or hope that he could be bluffing.

If we're unsure about whether folding is the right thing to do, the strength of our own hand, the opponents' playing styles, the previous actions of all the players still in the hand, and the pot odds have to be included in the following decision. If we're sure that we don't have the best hand, then we should fold the river, even if we get good pot odds! In case of doubt you should call. In case this should be a mistake, the call only costs us one big bet. However, if we make the mistake of folding, although we have the best hand, this will cost us the whole pot. 

Another important point is the number of opponents still in the hand. If there have been a lot of bets, raises and calls on the turn and/or on the river, we will mostly need a very strong hand to call on the river. Thus, if there have already been a bet and a call on the river, we need a much stronger hand in order to call than if there had only been a bet.

Generally, there will be few bluffs on the river, particularly when we are up against several opponents.
If a player bets against several other players when a draw such as a straight draw or a flush draw arrives, then as a rule, that player really is holding the hand he is representing and we should fold. 

On dangerous boards and with a good but not very good hand, we can bet the river against players who barely bluff, and then fold against a check-raise.

Betting or raising with a strong hand

Many players always bet or raise on the river when they believe they have the best hand. That doesn't always make sense!

This is because it isn't enough just to have the best hand - our opponents must also call our bet. Since that's the only way we're going to win an additional big bet.

If an opponent's hand is only marginal or weak, however, he won't call but fold. In this case the raise produces nothing. By contrast, if he's holding a very strong hand he won't call but raise. As a rule we're now forced to call (because of the size of the pot), and then we'll often lose two additional bets.

If our opponent has a marginal or weak hand we gain nothing since he's going to fold anyway. But in case he has a very strong hand our river bet/raise costs us an additional big bet. We will only make a profit if we get called by an opponent who is holding a weaker hand.

We should therefore only bet or raise on the river when we have the best hand in case our opponent calls.

Bluffing the river 

As already mentioned, it seldom makes sense to bluff on the river against several opponents. It is very likely that at least one of the players is holding a mediocre hand and that he will call due to the good pot odds.

Generally, very few players fold on the river when they have already stayed in the hand so long. An exception here are players with draws that haven't hit. Raise bluffs seldom work as well because players are unwilling to fold hands when they have already bet and therefore usually call a raise. 

But if the bluff works we win the entire pot and thus a whole lot of big bets.

We must be extremely careful what kind of players we try to bluff on the river. The player we bluff must be capable of folding marginal hands on the river. A lot of (weaker) players are not capable of doing that. Generally beginners are also difficult to bluff. An accurate estimate of our opponents is therefore a prerequisite for a successful bluff.