Texas Hold ‘Em: The River

The river is a deceptively tricky street to play in Texas Hold ‘Em poker. While many poker strategy guides glide over it without much thought — after all, if players have made it that far, they’re doing fine — we think it’s important for beginning players to sit down and seriously look at the river as a place that can make or break their hand. The short version is that the best river strategy for small stakes games is to play a straightforward game and let your opponents make all the mistakes.

Marginal Hands Are Playable
The size of the pot is large compared to the size of the bets in most low-to-mid-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em games and it sometimes makes sense for players to dive in a bit more robustly than they ordinarily would want to if they’ve got a hand that’s playable, if not perfect. Take a close look at the players who bet on the river with you. Those players’ styles should tell you how likely it is each one has a legitimately strong, playable hand. If a tight player bets and three other players call that bet, you can rest assured that your hand is probably not going to make it.

Strong Hands Are Better
It’s fairly easy to play strong hands on the river because what you’re trying to do is to get more money in the pot from other players. You’ll likely be able to avoid worrying about other players having you beat at this point in the game, but you’ll also want to make sure that they give you more of their chips. If you’re in the early position, the best move is almost always to bet, but make it a modest one to pump things up a bit. However, in middle and late position, you have a few options depending on what the other players do.

If the players before you check, go ahead and bet. If you try to perform a check-raise on the river, you can end up screwing things up because several others have already shown little interest in the pot. The best thing you can do is bet and hope for a little action.

Weak Hands Should Get Tossed
I’ve found that bluffing on the river is generally just a bad idea, especially in small stakes online poker games. Players in these games tend to be loose and, as noted before, the size of the bets are so small compared to the amount of the pot that most of the time they’ll call you. Bluffing should be kept to a minimum in small stakes hold ’em games, period.