If you read any types of advanced poker ebooks or strategy articles at any of the online poker sites, you’ll learn that one of the biggest flaws amongst even winning players in the micro-stakes games is that they don’t value bet the river properly.
Unfortunately a lot of regulars butcher the river. They either don’t value bet the river enough with strong hands, or they value bet in awkward situations where they would be much better off checking for value and taking the safer route.
Think about this one for a second. Have you ever caught yourself with Ax or mid-pair and decided to raise the board after a check only to get bluff-raised off the pot and fold? Well this is precisely what I’m talking about when I say that most players don’t play the river profitably enough or exploit enough value from the regulars.
There are no rigid safeguards or rules for how you play the river. In fact, the river encapsulates what Texas Holdem is all about. Getting the meta-game right, understanding your opponent’s playing style and narrowing down his hand range is the only right way to playing the river. If you are having to guess at these stage whether your opponent has something or not then you’re probably not at a very good player yet.
Against calling stations and weak TAG players you should be value betting lightly more often, since they are more likely to call with dominated hands. Against decent LAGs and solid players however you should only be value betting with strong hands.
Value Bet or Check the River?
You only want to value bet the river when you’re ahead. Typical hands that I will value bet the river with will be 3 of a kind, the nut flush/straight or top two pair. For example, if I have K10 on a board A-K-4-9-K then it is 99% likely that you are ahead.
Your aim should be to extract the maximum value possible from the board, however knowing how to do this will depend on your opponent’s playing style and how he played the flop and turn. If he showed some aggression by betting the flop and continuing by betting the turn then he’s probably got the Ace and will be calling you down.
On the other hand if he checked both the flop, turn and river then he’s very unlikely to call any sized bet on the river. He might have even had a drawing hand like JQ and missed it on the river. Against these types of players you need to make much smaller value bets to encourage them to call. I’d make a ¼ pot value bet for example rather than a 50% bet which I’d do if my opponent had the ace.
Most players fail to recognize dangerous boards and value bet when they are not 100% confident that they are ahead. A bad time to value bet the river for example would be when you have 78 on a 9-10-J-Q-4 board. Although you have a very good hand you could easily be drawing dead to the nut straight. Hence, if your opponent checks to you then you are better off checking for value and seeing a cheap showdown.
To explain why checking is the best option let’s say you value bet for instance. By value betting 50% of the pot you are only likely to get called by hands that beat you since there are 4 cards to the straight on the board. What’s more, if you value bet the river then there is a greater chance that your opponent will try to bluff-raise you by representing the nut straight. Hence, checking for value is the best option in the long term.
Now, obviously there will be much more difficult situations to assess on the river. Let’s say that you have JQ for example and board shows 6-J-K-2-7. If you’re opponent checks over to you then your decision to bet the river should be based on your opponent’s tendencies. If he c-bet the flop but checked both the turn and river then he could have hit the bottom or even mid-pair.
You should value bet against this opponent since there is a high chance they will call with an inferior hand. On the other hand, if he raised pre-flop, bet the flop and the turn but then checked the river, then there is a greater possibility that he has the K. Since he showed so much aggression earlier in the hand I will check behind a check under these circumstances and avoid an ugly re-raise.