Playing the river in No Limit Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em offers four betting rounds – four opportunities that can change the game entirely.
With such a large number of chances to create value from a hand, there’s great opportunity to make serious money in Texas Hold’em versus other forms of poker.
If a hand makes it to the river, the way a player bets will make the difference in winning the pot or losing a chunk of his or her stack – a visible plan needs to be made in order to determine the outcome.
After the river card is on the table, you and your rival is holding one of three hand types – weak, medium or strong. Deciding how to bet at this point should be weighed against the skills you have observed in your opponent.
If you were hoping to score a key card on the river but didn’t, your hand is weak. You can either try to bluff your way to the win or check/draw, depending on your opponent. Many novice players make the mistake of bluffing too often; however, skilled players who are showing a definite interest in the pot won’t be chased off. This will almost certainly lead to failure and lost chips.
If your hand is weak and your opponent is showing strength, check/fold. If you get the impression that your opponent has been chasing a card, as well, you might be able to get away with a bluff, but only if the river card is strong. If the board doesn’t show anything that could be put with your hole cards, your opponent is going to read right through the attempted bluff.
An example of a hand that is of medium strength is a strong, but single pair. It’s an unwritten rule that a medium-strength hand is never bet on in Texas Hold’em. You might be holding a hand that could win in a showdown, but there are still plenty of other options that could win – you never want to bet more than you’re willing to lose.
You could try to play defensively, if your opponent is playing loose, and come out swinging, but this is a decision that has to be made on each hand, and which being able to read your opponents is so important. Try to play the pot as cheaply as possible, which means you would typically check and then call any reasonable bet when you’re out of position or checking behind your opponent when you’re in position.
If you have two pair or better, congratulations. It’s now time to try to earn maximum value of the table. Add a little more than you usually would to try to get your opponent to swallow the bait and, once hooked, reel him in. If you bet too big, you could scare off your opponent and not pick up any additional value.
Keep in mind, though, that an opponent who has been betting aggressively throughout the action could also be looking at a strong hand, so make sure you know what you’re up against before proceeding. If you have a strong hand and believe your opponent’s hand is weak, considering just checking in order to try to draw out a bluff. A check-raise bluff on the river isn’t recommended, as it often fails and could be costly.
A key component to succeeding in poker is being able to get a read on your opponents. It isn’t an exact science, but is extremely important. When betting on the river, it can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal.