We’ve all been in a tough river spot.

It could have been an agonizing decision where we are facing a big bet out of position, holding top pair and thinking to ourselves “how the hell did I get here”.

Or, it could’ve also been a confusing scenario where we don’t know whether we should lead or check-raise with our made broadway flush.

Regardless of the difficulties we’ve faced before, these two basic tips are guaranteed to help us improve playing the final street of betting.

  1. Always consider pot odds

River decisions are quite simple. There might be a few scenarios where it can get really confusing because of live reads, player history, pot-size pressure and other non-math factors. But if we think about it, we actually have a fairly simple decision at the river

Decisions on the river are not subjected to the complexities of implied odds and other factors that involve drawing hands.

This is because there is no more action left after this street. We also would’ve narrowed everyone’s ranges by then.

Pot odds will give us the straightforward mathematical insight needed to make a strategically sound decision.

For example: 

Your opponent bets ₱2,500 into a ₱5,000 pot on the river.

We can calculate the percentage of  how often we need to be good using simple pot-odds.

(Size of the bet / Pot size after the bet is made + Size of the bet) *100

(₱2,500 / ₱7,500 + ₱2,500) * 100 = 25%

In this case we need to have the better hand at least 25 percent of the time to make a breakeven call.

  1. Block bet to set the price at showdown

There are mainly two merits of block betting.

  1. Making sure you get that last ounce of value from worst hands
  2. Not having to face an enormous river bet with a showdown value hand / medium strength hand

For example:

In a live ₱50/₱100 game

Hero raises to ₱500 in middle position with A♦ A♣

Villain calls in the cutoff.

Flop (₱1,150): T♠ 3♥ 6♥ 

Hero bets ₱400. Villain calls.

Turn (₱1,950): Q♦

Hero bets ₱1600. Villain calls.

River (₱5,150): K♦

Hero bets ₱1,600. Villain calls and mucks K♥ J♥

In this scenario the river block bet accomplishes the two said merits

  1. Get value from all combinations of Q high flush draws and K high flush draws
  2. Set a river price in case we are second best to KhQh and KhTh which are likely hands that villain can have.

While it can be argued that good players will be able to exploit this strategy by raising a balanced range, majority of players, even regs, will be more induced to make the mistake of just calling to “play it safe”

Final thoughts

Making river decisions can bring a lot of pressure even to the most seasoned pros. The key is to be able to make the best decision using sound rationale. The best decisions are replicable plays that win most of the time because it is grounded on simple solid thought-processes.