Texas Hold’em – Playing The River

One of the most exciting parts of Texas Hold’em is just after the river card is dealt. Especially when there are only two players left in the game. When you get down to the river and it’s just you and one other player, chances are the other player isn’t bluffing. You’d better take a good look at the community cards and determine what is the highest possible hand you can both have. There are three possibilities at this point:

  1. You fold,
  2. You stay in and win (if you have the winning hand at showdown),
  3. You stay in and lose

Limiting your losses is just as important as maximizing profits in Texas Hold’em, so you want to avoid calling river bets with second best hands. The more experience you get on the felt, the better you will get at determining where you’re at post-flop.

Let’s think about the different possible scenarios you will find yourself in on the river:

Busted Draws

You’re not always going to find yourself in the ideal situation where you have a great hand by the time the action reaches the river. You can end up on the river with a busted draw, in which case it’s time to check fold or bluff, but you need to figure out how likely a bluff is to work.

On the other hand, if you can induce the other player to bluff when they have a busted draw and you have a strong hand on the river, then you stand a good chance of extracting more value, and it will really add to your winrate as the bets become fairly sizable on the river.

Medium-Strength Hands

You can end up on the river with a medium-strength hand like top pair decent kicker. In these situations where it’s difficult extracting value from worse hands, you’re generally happy to check it back and see a showdown.

Bet-folding is a great play to have in your poker arsenal, especially in low-stakes live cash games, which play passively in nature. You can safely bet-fold your medium-strength hands, because most players are making calling mistakes, and will be less likely to bet or raise themselves unless they have the best hand.

Strong Hands

If you’re in the fortunate position of getting to the river in Texas Hold’em with a strong hand like two pair or a set on a dry board, then you want to bet an amount that your opponent(s) can call to get maximum value with your hand. Bet sizing is an important consideration; if you bet too big you might drive out weaker hands on the river; if you bet too small you might not be extracting as much value as you could.

Poker is all a psychological game. Sure, there is skill in how you play the cards you’ve been dealt, but you’ve also got to read the other players and determine whether they are bluffing, playing with a strong hand, or just trying to keep you honest.

One of the most intense parts of the game is the river betting action with the fifth community card and if you’re going to play the river well then you’ve got to learn to read the board and the people you’re playing against. Most novice poker players assume that bluffing is integral to No Limit Hold’em, and you definitely want to do it sometimes, but the truth is that winning poker consistently is mostly about effectively value betting.

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