The river is, of course, the stage that occurs after the flop. The flop is when players see their first potential hands and make a critical decision to either stay in the game, bet on their cards or fold and go back to being an observer. We’ve covered the flop in other articles, so there’s no real reason to review its merits. In general, if players make it through the flop, they’ve got a good reason to do so.
The Turn gives players a chance to either stick with that instinct. If you’re ahead, you should bet and if you’re behind, fold. You’ll need to evaluate how many ways you could be beaten: your KK can be the king of a very weak board until an Ace drops and suddenly the player holding A10 is running things. Take time to learn how to count your outs and evaluate the odds of continuing to the river and emerging profitably.
If you’ve made it to the river on a pair of good cards, then there is one basic piece of advice to follow: almost never fold. Good cards mean that you have a shot at holding the winning cards and in general, if you’ve reached the river, the pot is big enough to keep you in. Overall, River play should be fairly simple for this very reason. On occasion, you’ll see people that check at the river in an attempt to be “classy” or some such nonsense, but serious Hold ‘Em players know that the River is a make it or break it situation.
Unless you didn’t complete a pure draw hand, you should call any bets that are made. Why? That reason is two-fold. First: you get a chance to further engorge the pot with other people’s money. If you’re holding the nuts and you know it, push them and take as much as you can from them when you eventually win. Secondly, you want to avoid having a reputation as being someone who folds at the river. People will begin to push you around, and that’s exactly what every poker player works hard to avoid. Having a strong stance at the table and belief in your cards is an important part of your table image and strategy.
There are only two occasions in which folding at the river makes sense. The first is when you’ve got a tight/conservative player that never bluffs is holding their ground and raising after calling for the entire round. It’s likely that they’ve hit the hand they’ve been drawing towards and while you may have a great set-up, theirs is likely to give you that bad beat. The other involves two or more players who have moved from calling and raising in small amounts to out-and-out betting on the river, making it likely that at least one of them is holding the goods. Both cases are fairly similar and should be easy enough for you to recognize at the table.
Overall, pot odds alone mean that if you’ve made it to the river, there’s at least a 90% chance that you’re going to the showdown. Take a strong position and hold it and you’ll generally see rewards.