Ship the river

Betting for value on the river is the key to being a winning limit hold’em player

In limit hold’em you will rarely call a big bet on the turn and then fold on the river unless of course, you’ve missed your draw. There are times to fold on the turn and it’s usually when you think you’re drawing dead. The last thing a poker player ever wants to do is put money in the pot drawing dead.

There are other occasions when you should fold a draw on the turn. This is where you’ll have to keep track of the pot and find out if it is laying you the right odds to make the call. There are still implied odds to take into account, but these are less of a factor with only one more street to come.

There are some pretty general rules of when to fold on the turn that you can follow:


If you’ve got a draw, but it’s not to the nuts, and you’re faced with two big bets cold then you can consider a fold here. This is a tough spot because the betting is still open and you could face a third and fourth bet before even seeing the river.


If there is a four flush on the board, you’ve got a straight draw and you’re facing a lot of heat then almost definitely release here. The pot would have to be huge for me to continue. To be honest, this is a spot where I probably dump on the flop.


If after a lot of betting on the flop, the board pairs and you’ve got a flush draw this should throw up a red flag. If there was a lot of heat on the flop, then once the board pairs, you could be drawing dead.


If you get check-raised on the turn, a one-pair hand is almost never good. There are exceptions, but most players at this level aren’t sophisticated enough to check-raise bluff. This is the time to release a 2nd or 3rd pair if you don’t think it’s good. Unless you have some sort of two-way draw, you’re paying a hefty price to catch a 5-outer and then of course, you have to hope it’s good.


You should also consider a fold if you’re not sure you’re drawing live.

On the opposite end of the scale if you have a made hand, then be wary of the raise on the flop with a draw-heavy board. Your opponent could be trying to buy a free card.

If you’re out of position and you think you have the best hand, you should bet. Don’t give them the free card.

The check-raise to eliminate the field is a tough play, but if you really think the button will bet, then go for it. If he checks behind you, it’s a disaster. Not only have you given the free card, but you’ll also missed a big bet of value. In position, you’ll bet or raise when the action comes to you. Don’t get tricky now. Make your opponents pay for their draws.


No street is misplayed more often than the river. I don’t want to dismiss pre-flop play, but any monkey can figure that out. It’s river play that separates the winners from the losers. If you want to be a winning player, you’ll have to bet for value. In limit hold’em it’s imperative.

One of the props that used to work with me would complain that he couldn’t beat the game. He didn’t understand what he was doing wrong. His pre-flop play and turn play was excellent, but month after month he found himself barely breaking even. As a favour, I watched him play and noticed that he only bet the river when he was bluffing or when he had an absolute monster.

I kept track of how many times he checked the river and won at showdown and determined that he left a staggering amount of money at the table. We were playing $30/$60 at the time and I figured in an eight-hour day he missed about four value bets (I’m being very conservative). That’s $240 a day, $1200 a week, $4800 a month or $57,600 per year.

Limit hold’em is a game where you take small edges. Good players can win about one big bet per hour. If you’re playing $10/$20 and you’re an excellent player, expect to win $20 an hour. If you aren’t betting for value on the river, good luck trying to break even.


Let’s look at an example where you have A-10 on a 10-7-7 flop. Your opponent bets, you raise and he calls. The turn comes Q, your opponent checks and you bet. He calls and you see the 8 river. Your opponent checks. Now do you bet the river here? What do you think your opponent has?

In reality, there are many hands your opponent could have where he might pay you off – 10-9, J-10, K-10 are all definite possibilities. He could even have 8-9, get stubborn and pay you off. There is only one hand that you’re afraid of and that’s Q-10. If he had a seven, he probably would have raised you on the turn.

Let’s look at another example where you are out of position in the big blind with Q-2. The flop is Q-7-4 and you check-call a bet from a single opponent. On the 3 turn you bet out and your opponent calls. The river comes a 9, so do you bet here? Because I’m out of position, I’ll bet this for three reasons.


1 If you’ll never get a better hand than yours to fold.

2 If you’ll never get paid by a worse hand.

3 If you are more likely to get your opponent to bluff at it than to pay you off.

Firstly if my opponent has a Q, he’s going to bet and I’m going to call. Secondly, he didn’t raise my turn bet and therefore I don’t think he has a Q. And thirdly, if my opponent called the turn, he might feel inclined to pay off the river with something as weak as a 7. Remember, if you value bet in limit hold’em and you’re wrong, it’ll only cost you one big bet. It’s a much bigger mistake in no-limit because you re-open the betting.


Most experts will agree that you don’t want to be a hero on the river. You aren’t going to make a living making huge laydowns on the river in limit hold’em. If you call on the river and it’s incorrect, you lose one big bet, but if you incorrectly fold on the river, you could be losing an entire pot – often 10 big bets.

If you look at it mathematically, it’s quite simple. Let’s say the pot was raised pre-flop and three players called, including you. On the flop and the turn, there was a bet and two calls. The pot now contains 9.5 big bets, including your opponent’s river bet. You are getting 9.5/1 on your money. I’m not a big fan of folding when I’m getting nearly 10/1 on my money and I might be good. Remember, you don’t have to be right very often to make this call worthwhile.

However, there are times to release on the river. You should fold when you have missed your draw. You should also be releasing when there is a bet and at least one call. Maybe one player is bluffing, but two? You don’t need to overcall with a mediocre hand.

Last note about play on the river, if you aren’t called, don’t show your cards. Keep them guessing. Make them pay for it – maybe next time they will.

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