Overbetting the river can be profitable in more situations than it might appear, says CardRunners pro James ‘jballer’ Ackerman
For typical no-limit hold’em players, probably 90% of bet sizes postflop will fall between half-pot and full-pot. This is fine, and probably optimal, but the beautiful thing about no-limit hold’em is there is no limit to the size of the bet, and most people aren’t familiar with the powerful weapon that is overbetting.
Usually when you overbet you do it for two reasons: either with a very strong hand for value, or as a bluff trying to push out a weak hand that would have called a normal-sized bet. But I’m going to explain a third way to use overbetting to your advantage. This alternative way to use overbetting involves going for thin value by representing a polarised range.
There was a hand I played in a $1/$2 six-max cash game a few months ago that highlights this concept well. It was against another regular who played pretty standard tight-aggressive poker, and was likely a winning player. In this particular hand, both myself and the villain started with full $200 stacks. I was dealt A♠-J♣ UTG+1 and raised to $7.
It folded round to the button, who called, and the blinds folded. The flop was J♥-8♠-3♠ – a great one for me. I would make a continuation bet in this spot probably close to 90-95% of the time, but I had been check-folding a decent amount in this session, and had a specific read that the villain liked to stab at pots when I checked to him, so that’s what I did.
Unfortunately, he checked behind. In this spot, I think this player is betting hands stronger than mine close to 100% of the time, so I definitely was not worried about being behind, and he is also probably betting all of his complete bluffs and draws.
With this information, I can infer that he likely has a hand with showdown value, which does not want to bloat the size of the pot. Hands that fall into this particular category are hands like 7-8 suited, 8-9 suited, pocket pairs such as 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 9-9, and other hands that are basically bluff-catchers.
Outside the box
The turn card was the 2♥, making the board J♥-8♠-3♠-2♥, and putting up a second flush draw. I definitely have to bet this turn, to either represent a hand that was giving up on the flop now trying to take it away, or a hand that turned a draw and is semi-bluffing. I made a standard bet size of $11 into the pot of about $16. My opponent called and the river was the 7♦.
This is a relative brick in this spot, as it’s unlikely to have helped either player, and if his hand was best on the turn it’s still likely to be good. On the river, I’m pretty sure a bet of between half and full pot is going to be called nearly 100% of the time here.
However, as I said, there’s another option in this particular situation that my opponent will be even more likely to perceive as a bluff, and that is making an overbet of 1.5-2x the pot. If I was to bet 1.5x pot here (about $57) and for it to be more profitable than making a standard two-thirds pot bet, I need my opponent to call with a frequency of about 42-43%.
Since my range looks relatively weak, and it’s very hard to believe I would play a credible hand for value this way, I decided that I would definitely get called more often than the 43% threshold. So I made a bet of $57 into the $38 pot. My opponent quickly called with 9♣-9♦ and mucked his hand.
This hand is a great example of thinking outside the box, which is what will quickly separate the good players from the great ones at just about any stakes.
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