Check-raising the River

Check-raising rivers should seldom be done for value in MTTs. Generally, tournament players don’t value bet enough on the river. They’re far more content to check it back and take what is already in the pot. Losing all your chips on a failed value jam makes it pretty hard to come back in a tournament. Often, keeping your chip arsenal has a potential which is difficult to assign a numerical value to.

That said, I’m consistently dumbfounded by what people do not bet in poker tournaments. Try to set up some check-raises for value some week and prepare to stare aghast at all the rivered top pairs people check behind with.

There is a particular player who you can target: the value bettor. There are a number of people who have a high river aggression frequency, say 30% or more. Many people got this high value because they were bluffing so much, but others get it because they try to go for value with third pair every time. To identify these players it is of great assistance to look at a NoteCaddy pop-up in regards to river betting. Figure 140 shows one.

As you can see from all the marks on the spectrum, our opponent here likes to lead the river with some less than stellar hands. He often tries to chop out some chips with weaker holdings by betting 35–55% of the pot. When he does have something he seems to go for 55–75% of the pot. If we check to him with a mediocre pair with which we’re trying to get to showdown, and he bets 40% of the pot, we should consider turning our hand into a bluff and check/jamming. Similarly, if we have close to the nuts and he bets 70% of the pot we should try a large check-raise.

We should not play into his game and pay him off with the weaker end of our range when he’s clearly going for value. Don’t be afraid to turn a hand into a bluff if you have clear research which indicates it is the right course of action.

One of the occasions when we should be really wary about betting large on the river is when we have two opponents in the pot. If they got to the river they will have a big enough hand to call a normal bet on the river, or so they will believe. The person who calls first should be wary of another player being in the pot, but people usually aren’t.

The overcaller should be especially careful because the river has now been bet and called; surely, there’s a solid hand there somewhere. However, many tournament players do not exude this kind of impulse control. If they have top pair with any kicker and they are getting a decent price they are fine with paying to see if it’s good. Therefore we should make a moderate bet on the river if we think a call and overcall is likely. If we bet 45% of the pot, for example, that’s not much different from half the pot, but players register it in a different part of their minds than “half-pot.” It goes into the category of “less than half of the pot,” which sounds really cheap.

The first opponent calls the cheap bet and the second player calls because of the great pot odds along with its affordability. We’ve now secured 90% of the pot in value. That’s a huge return!

Block Betting the River

Another bet that is often reviled is the block bet, which is when you make a small bet on the river in the hope of blocking your opponent from making a large river bet. This bet is often used with middling hands which normally wouldn’t be able to get a full bet’s worth of value; if you had led with the standard bet size it’s likely only better hands would have called.

There are players who instantly know what you’re doing here and have no problem turning hands into a bluff and jamming on you, but there are not as many players as you might think who are capable of this. Many tournament players are not in the habit of turning their hands into bluffs, so they call down with mediocre value, and give you some chips that you probably shouldn’t have been able to squeeze out of them.

To identify players who are incapable of river bluffing look at their raise statistic. Normally this should be very low. Even 20% is pretty high; 15% or lower is fairly typical. Any higher than that and one has to be suspicious. This is especially true with many Eastern European players, who have begun checking back value hands on the turn in the hope of getting increased value with a river raise.

You can also look at overall river aggression frequency. If this is 25% or lower you generally do not need to worry about a river bluff. If it’s 35% or higher you have to be very cautious when you try to block bet.

As always, it helps to use a NoteCaddy pop-up to see exactly what someone has been raising rivers with. If you find he always raises a small bet you might consider passing on the block bet, but in a later hand where you have value you can bet small to induce a raise.

Conclusion

You are going to mess up on a number of rivers. It is inevitable. This is much preferred to trying to never to mess up a river. Not making a decision is in effect having a decision made for you. Sadly, this is how many otherwise talented players approach the last card. Players do not want to bet the river because they ask, “What do I do if he raises?” This fear is unfounded. There are not many players who launch exquisite river bet raise bluffs, and even fewer who execute river check-raise bluffs well. Most players are content to call and see if their hand is good. Many tournament players desire the thrill of winning at showdown more than the money; perhaps they would have been more attracted to cash if they wanted a large income from the game.

Their attraction to winning is often demonstrated by how often they show down a hand. There’s a little “oomph” of victory when you show down the best hand. People who value conquering all, as many tournament players do, also want to win the smaller skirmishes.

Don’t be afraid to “value own” yourself. You should accidentally value bet the second-best hand some of the time. If you’re not occasionally tabling the second-best hand after a call you are not value betting enough.

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