No-Limit Hold'em: BSS – The River (2)

The first article about gameplay on the river described the basic concepts. We therefore know,

  • when we should post a value bet,
  • when we should post a block bet,
  • in which situations it is worth bluffing
  • and when a call is the most profitable option.

Now we need to determine how we can correctly implement this knowledge into the game itself. As with every round of betting in Texas Hold'em, on the river we have in position and out of position plays:

In position plays

Out of position plays

1. Bet & raise 1. Bet/fold
2. Call 2. Bet/re-raise (all-in)
3. Check behind & fold 3. Bet call
- 4. Check fold
- 5. Check/raise
- 6. Check/call

Let's look at these options one at a time to see where we can apply them.

In position plays

1. Bet & raise

If we're playing in position and have a made hand, then we should try to maximise value on the river. We therefore need to bet or raise to do this.

The first article about gameplay on the river already told us that we should only generally bet or raise for value with above-average made hands. All other cases are considered bluffs. With busted draws, marginal made hands or even trash hands it is generally more profitable to check behind / fold or call.

The question now is:

  • "How much should we bet / raise?"

As previously stated, maximising value is a critical factor in determining your own rate of winning. For this reason, the amount we bet and/or raise should be well considered. If we have decided to bet, the amount to put in the pot should then depend on five points:

  1. The quality of our own hand,
  2. The size of the pot,
  3. the effective stack size,
  4. the previous development of the hand
  5. and of course special opponent reads.

The quality of our own hand

The first point is not actually in keeping with our principle of determining the amount to be bet depending on the quality of our hand. We can now take this into account on the river.

The better the hand on the river, the bigger our bets and raises should be. In extreme cases, e.g. with nuts, this can means that we should go all-in rather than bet a standard amount. This move is particularly recommended on the river as a lot of opponents...

  • ... could suspect a bluff and therefore call rather than post a "normal" value bet, which is asking to be called.
  • ... tend to call at this point because they have already invested a lot of money in the pot.

Correspondingly, we have to consider an appropriate amount to bet in the case of a planned bluff.

The amount we bet should always depend on the quality of the hand we are trying to represent – irrespective of whether we actually have this hand or not.

Pot and stack sizes

The pot and stack sizes are the most important factor in the above list, and determine whether we want to bet part of the pot or whether a direct all-in should be the line of attack.

The bigger the pot in relation to the stack size, the more advisable it is to go all-in. The reason for this decision is that we are committed to the pot with certain stack-to-pot ratios.

A guideline value is a ratio of approx. 2 to 1. So if for example there is $40 in the pot and the effective stack size is about $80, then any bet constituting half to all of the pot posted when an opponent raises will give us far better pot odds than if we fold. The same rules also apply to a bluff, meaning that we should almost never bluff in such situations.

The previous development of the hand and reads

The previous development of the hand and special reads also influence the amount we should bet, which should depend on whether our opponent claims to have a bad or good hand. Big bets are useful if we suspect our opponents of having good made hands.

  • Example of a raise hand

In this first example of a raise hand on the river we have in the big blind and all of the players fold apart from the small blind. We check.

The flop is , and we hit top two pair. The opponent donks in the flop and we raise. Villain 5 can play a lot of hands here, such as pairs or draws. We are then called and the turn is – which is basically a blank card.

Our opponent donks again, so we raise. The is dealt on the river, which completes our full house. Fortunately for us the villain posts a bet and we have a look at the stack size. Villain only has slightly more than the pot available. As he will often fold a lot of bad hands such as two pairs if we raise, but will almost certainly go to the showdown with better hands such as trips, a straight or a worse full house, an all-in push will maximise the value a great deal.

The opponent calls the all-in and shows us – which is unfortunately the winning hand.

2. Call

A simple call is always an option if we have a low-quality made hand and our opponent bluffs or bets with a worse hand than our own. If we think about the questions from the first article on the subject of "calling", we should develop a certain feel for when a river bet call is worthwhile.

If we are in position and are check raised by an opponent, we can generally call with a wider range of hands than if we are out of position. Most players often tend to directly bet good made hands on the river as they run the risk of losing value with a check. However, if we raised the opponent's river bet, we will either have an above-average made hand so that the call or all-in raise requires no further thought, or we bluffed and come across an easy fold.

  • Example of a call hand

Two weak players limp and we isolate them with . One player calls the raise, the flop is and villain checks us. As we are playing heads-up and can represent a hit hand, we post a continuation bet which the villain then calls.

The turn card is now paired with the board and we check both. The appears on the river and villain bets approx. three quarters of the pot.

At this point the first thought would be to fold, but if we analyse this situation we should in fact call. He is not likely to have the third ace as will have bet or raised already on the flop or on the turn at the latest. He will also have bet a queen on the turn and a pair of eights would have been an easy flop fold. It is possible that he slow-played a set of , but this is also unlikely. We therefore call at this point because villain cannot represent a logical hand that would beat ours.

3. Check behind & fold

We should check or fold all hands with not showdown value whatsoever. We should often do the same with marginal made hands. If we consult the questions from the "calling" section, we know exactly when it is generally better to fold our hand:

  • Does the river card complete potential draws?
  • Does the opponent's betting behaviour indicate a good hand?
  • Do we have reason to believe that the opponent is bluffing?
  • Has the opponent bet on the turn?
  • Example of a fold hand

This hand shows e.g. a situation that no poker player wants to be in.

We posted a value bet both pre-flop and on the flop as well as on the turn. The board is very susceptible to draws and we are therefore forced to protect ourselves. Villain only called up to now, i.e. he is playing as if he has a draw. If he had bad made hands he would usually have already folded on the turn. The river then completes the flush and villain posts fairly big bets. We trust our read and fold as a result.

Out of position plays

1. Bet/fold

Block bets are the only option here. We only play block bets with marginal made hands in order to inexpensively see a showdown. Logically, we need to adapt our gameplay if confronted with a raise. As always, exceptions to this are special opponent reads.

  • Example of a bet/fold hand

In this hand we see a battle of the blinds situation. All of the players fold pre-flop and we have in the small blind. We raise with our good hand and the big blind calls. The flop is of no use to us, but we post a continuation bet. The on the turn is also of no use – on the contrary: it completes a number of draws.

We check and villain 3 does the same. With the river card, the community cards are now , meaning that we have a straight with the . We will however be beaten by any cards. As the board also contains a straight and our opponent calls because he has a number of hands which are both better and worse than ours, we post a block bet to ensure that we determine the price.

Villain 3 raises to 28 big blinds, meaning that we can fold easily.

2. Bet/re-raise (all-in)

In contrast to marginal made hands, we should only bet/re-raise nuts or hands that are way ahead of the opponent's hand in the majority of cases.

This re-raise is generally realised as an all-in.

3. Bet call

If we stick with our strategy, then this option will practically never occur as we either have a hand that is so good that we go all-in without any doubts, or we have a hand that is so weak that we check or post a block bet. Depending on the opponent or in order to vary our gameplay, we can however play a "bet call". Let's take a quick look at this.

This tactic covers all made hands good enough to be bet on again on the river, but are not good enough to re-raise (provided we or our opponents haven't already gone all-in). If we haven't posted a block bet, then the rules of the "calling" section and the pot odds on offer with a call are the deciding factors. The lower the amount the opponent raises, the more regularly we can call.

There is however one strict limitation on hands when using this tactic: If we are out of position, have posted a bet and our opponent raises, then we can only call with a small number of hands, i.e. only the upper half of our hand range, unless our opponent is a complete maniac.

Particularly with pots that were only very small up to the river because the people in the hand played tightly, we should thus also call tightly.

Colloquially this is known as a "crying call" because of the relatively insecure situation. Basically it is a call that is highly dependent on the opponent's gameplay.

  • The tighter our opponent raises here, the less often we should pay out.

4. Check fold

All trash hands are check folded on the river. Marginal made hands should also be check folded in a lot of cases, unless we have a strong indication that the opponent is trying to bluff us.

5. Check/raise

This move is rarely an option on the river. If we have a good hand and want to get as much money into the pot as possible, we should post a bet as otherwise we run the risk of the opponents behind us simply checking, which would cause us to lose value.

A lot of players are often happy about being able to fold the hand without losing much money unless they have nuts. They will thus check a wide range of hands. We therefore only get the opportunity to check/raise if our opponent appears very strong or is pursuing a very aggressive tactic on the river.

A check/raise is also rarely effective with weak hands as a (semi-)bluff. As already said, river bets indicate a certain strength, and there are only a few hands that can be bet on and folded on a check/raise. A check/raise on the river is also highly suspicious because we generally bet the same amount with good hands.

6. Check/call

We should play good hands, fold bad hands and block bet marginal hands if out of position. However, experienced players will pick up on this if we use these tactics too often.

For this reason we should regularly check/call marginal made hands, which allows the opponent to determine how much to bet, but it will also induce a bluff. This can be highly profitable against aggressive players. If we are up against a tighter and less forthcoming player, we should fold somewhat more often.

  • So as with "bet call", the "check/call" tactic should be used depending on the type of opponent.
  • Example of a check/call hand

This is a good situation to visualise how a check/call can be used. We make a fairly marginal call with pre-flop and see the flop (). We hit the top pair with a good kicker and then check/raise. In this situation a check/raise has the advantage of being able to take the continuation bet posted by villain 6 and also represent a very good hand so that we can even force better jacks to fold. Weak hands such as straight or flush draws call us.

The turn is and we bet again to prevent the draws from being given a free card. If we are raised here, then we have to fold. But villain 6 simply calls and we see a blank card on the river. As no more draws are possible, only better hands will call a river bet while bad hands will sometimes bluff on a check. This is a great situation for a check/call!

This article now rounds off gameplay during the betting rounds of Texas Hold'em.