Over-betting the River

In general, I am a huge fan of over-betting rivers. Many players only call river bets that are one-half or two-thirds the pot. When you fire twice that and then some they are hurt. If they call and they’re wrong the losses are tremendous.

If you want to understand the profitability of river over-bets try to make larger wagers some time with your value hands. You’re going to find that most of the time your opponents end up folding to you. It can be frustrating.

Better yet, if you want to see the data you already have in your hand histories go to Hold’em Manager 2, choose “Reports”, select “Tournament,” select “More Filters,” select “Bet Size Filters” to the left, select only “River” and “Made Bet” on the top, then select “River, Made Bet, Bet Size,” and at the bottom select a bet greater than 100%. Click the plus sign and you’re ready to go.

Figure 139 gives a visual guide if that jargon was hard to follow.

Once you’ve hit “Okay” and exited, you will be treated to all the times you have over-bet the river. If you’ve never done it then that is a problem. If you do have some hands to watch, right-click on one of them and select “replay all” and play them back. You’ll be astounded how seldom people actually call over-bets.

Of course, there are exceptions. You know when a particular player is tired of you, and is willing to call down whatever you put out there. Sometimes, you’ll also know the player’s most likely hand is not folding. Some players just can’t fold trips, no matter how excessive the evidence is that they are beat. Other players can never fold an ace.

Value bet versus these guys, but know that generally when your opponent’s hands are limited to one-pair combinations they’re not making the big call down. Work some over-bets into your game. If you get caught, take a note, and enjoy the fiesta of chips you’re likely to enjoy the next time you over-bet the river with a made hand.

Calling the River

I have never understood why, but tournament players really hate to think on rivers. If you watch a tournament grinder try his hand in cash games their largest leak is almost always calling too much on the river. You need to be able to make a big laydown in No Limit Hold ‘Em cash, but the same doesn’t seem to be true for tournaments.

I have multiple theories about the reason for this: tournament players are generally working with 30–40BB stacks. If they get in the habit of folding solid pairs with those short stacks they’re going to blind themselves out. Many successful tournament players received the bulk of their earnings from one or two wins. It’s possible these wins were a fluke where they simply called down everything and got there.

Another theory is that tournament players make more unexplainable bluffs than cash game players, who are often thinking about what their line represents. Many tournament players are gamblers who just want to see what happens if they fire a bet out. Calling down versus these recreational players seems to be a rational strategy.

There’s also a great deal of incentive to call the river: there are no more bets to come, there are no further cards to interrupt the equity possessed now, and there is a certain curiosity equity that’s realized when you get to see an opponent’s hand.

For whatever reason people do it, calling down too much is a bad habit once you get into higher stakes games. Players become more educated the further they move up in stakes; they are unlikely to fire a bluff in without considerable thought, and frequently they are just setting you up to pay them off.

If you are trying to get value from the river go for a half-pot-sized bet. The river features the largest bets of the game; often the wagers on fifth street are larger than the preflop, flop, and turn bets put together. For this reason, you would think people would think about the street more, but nine in 10 tournament players see a half-pot-sized bet, mutter “whatever,” and press “Call.” This is especially true live or on sites like America’s CardRoom where the calling player doesn’t have to show the hand they called with.

Many people do not understand how important it is to get value from these “gimme” bets as I call them. A “gimme” in golf is when you’re an inch or two from the hole, and you don’t even tap the ball in. You simply pick it up and

count an extra stroke on your score card. It’s a given among friends. The half-pot river bet in my mind is the “gimme” bet of poker plays because so many players act as if it is obligatory to call it with any showdown value. Collecting these is so important because it is very difficult to make those kinds of chips that easily during any other stage of the hand.

Many cash game players moving into tournament poker fail in this respect. They fire up a number of large river bets, assuming they are going to get called because of the suspicious line they took. But they don’t understand that in cash game poker many of those bets get called because businessmen with irregular schedules want to get in, gamble for a few hours, and leave.

If someone is playing a poker tournament they’ve often made a significant time investment and want to play for a certain amount of time. If the cash game player wants to keep playing after calling a large bet he simply reloads. A tournament player does not have this luxury. If he’s invested hours in this tournament and sees a bet which threatens his game mortality he’s going to really think about it: did he play three hours to throw away his game like this? If you bet half the pot and don’t go after the tournament life, most players will think, “Hey if I invest a little more Monopoly money I will get to see what this guy has.”

There’s also a meta-game incentive to getting the bet every time you can. Let’s say you have two available bet sizes in a fixed limit game. One is the size of the pot. The other is half the size of the pot. If you bet the size of the pot you get called 50% of the time. If you bet half of the pot you get called 100% of the time. Which bet should you take and why?

Many people reading this are saying, “There’s no difference. They both have the same exact expectation.” This is true if the hand takes place in a vacuum, but we are playing a poker tournament. The number of chips in a poker tournament is fixed. You can’t get more of them just by buying them. With the blinds going up constantly good chips become a scarce commodity. Therefore, otherwise capable players are unable to check-raise, donk lead, double barrel, cold 4-bet, or make a number of other plays that could put you in a vice grip.

When these players are in a compromised chip position it is imperative we have chips to exploit them. If you have fewer chips in tournament poker each chip is worth more individually. Similarly, the more chips you have, the less each chip is worth. If you’re able to risk chips that are worth less versus chips that are precious you will succeed. This is the situation we are trying to set up by taking down our “gimme” bets.

There is rarely a situation where a large bet would even be as profitable as a half pot-sized bet, just because people do not call them enough. Furthermore, even if it were slightly more profitable, the conscientious poker player should strive to build their stack securely. It’s often worth losing a few chips to know for sure you’ll be afforded some new tools in tournament maneuverability.

There is an exception to this rule: when you are at a table with more talented poker players than yourself you should go for the big bet. Often professionals who are aware of their abilities vastly overestimate their skill edge. Seeking to prove it they make a few more big calls than they should. Furthermore, given their abilities to complicate your life with aggression, it might be a while before you’re able to know for certain that you have the best hand. You also should not gamble on being able to find better spots in the future. Go for the gold in this situation, but in general go for the “gimme” bets.

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