Poker at its core is about extracting the largest amount of value out of the smallest statistical edges.
Every time you, as a player, let that small advantage pass you by because you fear being wrong, you are giving up large profits and, more importantly, are allowing your poker game to contain missed opportunity. This mistake equates to a losing battle at the lifetime poker game, which extends much further then a one day session at the tables. If you are leaving money that could be your own in front of other players nearly every time you play, that’s a lot of missing money from your bankroll at the end of the year.
I am talking about checking the river when you most likely should be betting.
A value bet is when you make a bet, more often than not, on the river, which is small enough to warrant a call from your opponent.
A quick example is: Four players see a flop of 4-8-2 rainbow. The action is checked around. The turn comes another 2, and the action is checked around again. The river comes a queen, and the action is checked to you. With the pot at $100, you bet something like $25-$40 holding A-Q and looking for a call from a smaller pair or even ace high.
You aren’t looking to break the players, just looking for a little extra profit on your hand that is highly likely to be best.
However, there is a quote that you see in almost every poker book that preaches being careful to never bet a hand when the only hands that can call you are going to be hands that beat you. The phrase is right in context, but I think many players confuse this tip to mean that they should never bet the river, and because of this, they often miss opportunities to value bet where their hand could likely have made them extra profit. Remember, poker comes down to the winners being the players that make the least amount of mistakes, and winning players extract the most money when they have a statistical advantage.
When you are on the river and faced with a marginal decision on whether to check or bet, don’t always take the safe way out. It often depends on the situation you are being faced with. However, there are some factors you can consider when deciding the proper way to play your hand.
What do you think is your opponent’s range of hands? When determining whether or not to bet, you need to walk through the hand like you normally would, and use all the action up until that point to figure out what your opponent might have.
Here’s an example: If the flop came down with two of the same suit, and a player threw out what looked to be a small feel bet looking for info or a pot builder-sized bet looking to get more money in the middle and then checked the rest of the way when the flush draw never showed up, then you can assume that your opponent may have just had the flush draw, in which case a bet wouldn’t serve you much good unless you figured he was holding the ace of that suit in his hand.
What type of opponent(s) you are dealing with. If you have the wannabe “table general” in the pot, the kind of guy that calls people and says he wants to “keep them honest,” then a little bet of anywhere from 25-50 percent of the pot should have his money in there with ace high to look you up.
Consider the texture of the board. If you had determined that your hand was good on the turn, then a brick falls on the river, you can be pretty sure you still have the best hand. However, if the board was reading 8-9-6 with two spades, and the turn and river came up 10-J with the jack of spades, whether you flopped hard with 7-10 or not, you can’t feel comfortable putting more money into the pot. Chances are that quote about only being called with the better hand is probably going to ring true to form in this spot.
While it may be safe to take the easy way out and check on the river, bear in mind that poker is an easy game to learn, but it’s almost impossible to master.
Knowing when to bet for value and when to check will ultimately separate the winners from the losers. The moral of this article is to make sure that you aren’t giving anything away for free – the pot, a look at your cards or your game plan. If you aren’t betting the river and getting called by a better hand at least some of the time, then you probably aren’t betting the river enough.