This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.
Playing the river optimally is what makes or breaks your winrate.
It’s the biggest money street and you often have to make a decision for your
whole stack. The amount of money in the pot by the river often paralyzes
players, because they are overly focused on the pot size, which affects their
decision making process.
So what should you do versus a big river bet? Well, when you ask a broad
question, you tend to get a broad answer, so here it is: it depends.
There’s a lot of factors to consider here: your opponent type, previous
action, board runout, pot odds, your relative hand strength, just to name a
Not a huge help, so let’s try to break it down in this article.
1. Try to Bluff Catch Versus Loose and Aggressive Players
Let’s start with the type of player we are up against. Most players will
primarily bet for value when they fire off a big river bet, especially at the
The only exception would be loose and aggressive players. This is true for
both regulars and aggrofish. You can generally call wider against aggrofish
than you would against LAG regulars. The looser and more aggressive the
player, the wider you should call them down.
This is an advanced poker strategy that works extremely well in today’s small stakes games. BlackRain79 discusses it in more detail in this video:
So in practice, this means that sometimes you should call them down with hands
you wouldn’t be comfortable calling with otherwise, like top pair weak kicker,
second pair, two pair on a wet board and such.
It’s important to trust your judgment in these situations, otherwise you’re
better off folding earlier if you suspect you’re going to get barrelled and
pushed out of the pot.
However, just because someone is loose and aggressive, doesn’t mean they will
have only bluffs in their range, especially on the river.
The board runout is an important factor when deciding how wide you should
call. Generally speaking, the drier the board, the wider you can bluff
Because your opponent sees the same community cards you see, and if they bet
huge on the river, they’re basically saying that the board doesn’t scare them
and they don’t care what you are holding.
On the other hand, if the river bricks (i.e. a river card doesn’t change
anything significantly, because it fails to complete any straight or flush
draws, for example), your more observant opponents might put you on a busted
draw and try to bluff you out of the pot.
They can also have a busted draw of their own, as decently winning LAGs know
the power of semibluffing on earlier streets, and know a large majority of
their opponents won’t have the heart to call down their triple barrel without
a monster hand.
In this situation, you should look for an opportunity to bluff catch with your
top pair or second pair, for example. Bear in mind that this isn’t something
you should try to do often, as these kinds of situations are more of an
exception than the rule, but who doesn’t love a good hero call from time to
If you’re able to pick off a huge pot with a mediocre hand, it can do wonders
to your bottom line, as most players wouldn’t have the nerve to pull it
It will also make it more difficult to play against you, because you’ll show
that you are able to call down in less than ideal circumstances, and won’t be
Just a disclaimer:
Know that it’s a high-risk, high reward play, and should be attempted only in
specific circumstances, against specific opponents, on specific boards and
against specific previous action.
You should base it on sound information and tells you’ve picked up on, not
just the feeling that this guy is bluffing, I’m gonna call him down with my
Big River Bet Example Hand #1
Effective stack size: 100BB.
You are dealt A♦8♦ in the BB.
A LAG reg open-raises to 3x from the BU.
SB folds, you call.
You check. Villain bets 3BB. You call.
You check. Villain bets 6BB. You call.
You check. Villain bets 16BB.
You should call.
This is a great spot to bluff catch based on our opponent type, previous
action, and the board runout. Let’s break it down.
A loose and aggressive reg open raises from the button. We assume their range
is very wide here, probably close to 50% of all hands. We have a decent
speculative hand. We can even opt to 3-bet light from time to time, but we
decide to flat call.
We flop a gutshot straight draw, and we expect the villain to fire off a c-bet
with pretty much a 100% of their range, which he does.
The turn doesn’t change much for us, except it puts a possible flush draw on
the board. The villain double barrels, but since not much has changed for us
from flop to turn, and are getting about 3:1 odds on a call, we decide to
The river doesn’t complete our gutshot, but we do end up improving to a top
pair. Is it good enough for a call? Let’s look at it from the villain’s
We didn’t give him any reason to assume we are holding an Ace. In fact, we
checked three times, so if they had to put us on a range, they would assume we
have a Tx hand, a busted straight or a flush draw.
Conveniently, that’s a part of their perceived range as well. The river comes
with a scare card, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they tried to buy the pot
Are we going to be good a hundred percent of the time? Of course not, but we
don’t need to be. This is something that BlackRain79 talks about in Modern Small Stakes.
They have a significant amount of bluffs in their range for our call to be
+EV, considering their player type, their open-raising position, our passive
lines, non-coordinated board and so on.
When we take all of that into consideration, we can infer that we can call
As for the aggrofish, aka complete maniacs, you can widen your river calling
ranges considerably. It is also a high risk, high reward play, but these
players are the only ones that will have a significant amount of bluffs on the
Because their ranges are already extremely wide on previous streets, so it’s
fair to assume they will get to the river with all kinds of busted draws,
Ace-high hands, fourth pair etc.
While their aggression can certainly be profitable in the short term, as even
they can occasionally catch a monster hand, they will be the most significant
long term losers.
You can’t outrun math. So when playing against them, you should be making more
hero calls than you would usually be inclined.
Be aware that their maniacal ways are usually short-lived, so you should try
to get them to donate their stacks to you before the next guy.
And you usually won’t have the luxury of waiting around for the monster hand
to try and trap them.
So next time you find yourself facing a huge river bet against them, go with
your gut, take a deep breath and call them down. Your winrate will thank you
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2. Look for Possible Completed Draws
As far as all the other player types are concerned, like fish who aren’t of
the aggro persuasion (which is most of them) and TAGs, you should be very
careful when calling big river bets. This is especially the case if they donk
bet big into you. (A donk bet is a bet made against the previous streets’
Look for possible completed draws and ask yourself if their previous action
makes sense that way. If the answer is yes, your overpair or top two pair
probably isn’t good enough anymore.
Think of it this way: would you bet big out of position on the river against
someone’s previous incessant aggression without a really strong hand? You
probably wouldn’t. And neither would the majority of the player pool at the
Big River Bet Example Hand #2
Effective stack size: 100BB.
You are dealt A♠Q♠ on the BU.
You open-raise to 3x.
SB folds, a loose passive fish calls in the BB.
Fish checks. You bet 5BB. Fish calls.
Fish checks. You bet 16.5BB. Fish calls.
Fish bets 40BB.
You should fold.
Let’s break down the action street by street.
There’s not much to say about preflop. We’re dealt a great hand on the button,
and we can assume the recreational player will call us down pretty wide in the
We flop top two pair and should start building the pot as soon as possible. We
expect to get called by a bunch of Ax hands, gutshot straight draws, flush
draws, you name it.
The turn doesn’t change much, but it does add a couple of gutshot draws if our
opponent called the flop with hands like JT, J9, or T9, for example.
We’re still miles ahead of villain’s range, so we decide to charge them a
premium for their drawing hands. We can even consider overbettting, but we go
for a pot sized bet.
And we get one of the worst river cards possible. The fish fires off a huge
donk bet. There is nothing left for us to do but bemoan our luck and fold
The Jack on the river completes a number of straight draws and a flush draw.
If we go back to preflop, we should expect this particular opponent to have
practically all suited junk in their range.
Fish love chasing draws, and they love playing suited junk. Nevermind the fact
that the chances of flopping a flush are only 0.8%.
Now, we could argue that it’s a fish, they don’t know what they’re doing, they
could be bluffing. Or they could have any number of two pair hands we’re ahead
of. Fair enough.
But if they did have a two pair hand, for example, wouldn’t they go for a
check-call option, considering such a scary board?
Even fish can see three diamonds on a board. And yes, they could be bluffing,
but there is nothing in their previous history that would suggest that.
You should always be on the lookout for disrupting patterns when playing
If an otherwise weak and timid opponent suddenly starts blasting off big bets,
they didn’t just randomly decide to mix it up a little. They are politely
letting you know they have the nuts.
As a rule of thumb in poker in general, calling should be the last option you
consider. As the old adage goes, if your hand is good enough for a call, it’s
good enough for a raise.
3. Check Your HUD Stats to Make an Informed Decision
But how do you know what type of player you’re up against? Well, the most
accurate way would be to check their VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot), PFR
(preflop raise) and AF (aggression factor) in your poker tracking software HUD.These are statistics which are placed right on your online poker table, beside each of your opponents, which tell you what type of player you are up against. This is highly useful information to have especially in the fast paced, multi-tabling, world of online poker.
These three poker HUD stats alone can give you a pretty good idea of the type of player you’re
facing, and only after a hundred hands or so. Of course, the bigger the sample
size, the better, but you can draw some general conclusions pretty
However, as we all know, most hands don’t get to showdown, and while we can
make some wide generalizations about some player types, it’s better to have
more info than less. If you are using a HUD, you might want to consider adding
stats like WWSF, WTSD, and W$SD to accurately assess your opponent’s postflop
By the way, if you aren’t using a poker HUD yet, BlackRain79 shows you how to set up your HUD in less than 5 minutes in this video:
So, WWSF stands for Won When Saw Flop, and is a percentage of times a player won
the pot after seeing the flop. The lower the WWSF, the weaker the player,
meaning they play aggressively with very strong hands only, and conversely,
the higher the WWSF, the more they bluff and fight for the pot post flop.
Here is a rough estimation of the spectrum.Use These Specific HUD Stats to Make Optimal Decisions Versus a Big River Bet
If their WWSF is less than 42%, they are weak and give up too much post flop. They don’t bluff enough, and if they give you action, especially on the big
money streets (turn and river) they have a very strong hand.
WWSF between 42% and 52% is the average. Of course, the higher the number, the
more often they bluff.
If their WWSF is bigger than 52%, they bluff way too often. You can call them
down widely and use their aggression against them.
WTSD stands for Went to Showdown, and shows the % of times a player, well,
went to showdown.
A player with a WTSD below 20% is an extreme nit, and goes to showdown with
very strong hands only.
A WTSD between about 24% and 27% is the norm for most winning players. Players with a WTSD above 30% are huge calling stations, and you should value
bet them relentlessly.
W$SD or Won Money at Showdown (or WSD) indicates the % of times a player won
the pot after the showdown. It’s inversely proportional to the WTSD, i.e. a
player with a low WTSD will have a big W$SD because they only see the showdown
with very strong hands, and huge calling stations will have a low W$SD because
they call down with a bunch of garbage hands.
Nitty players will have a W$SD of about 60% or more, fishy players about 40%
or less. Solid winning players will therefore be right in the middle with
One very important caveat, these stats require a huge sample size in order to
You will need 500 hands at the bare minimum to make any informed assumptions.
1000 hands is a decent sample size, but they get really accurate only after
5000 hands or so.
Needless to say, the more they tend towards the extremes of the spectrum, the
less hands you need to be sure, and the more you can exploit them by either
overbluffing or betting for value, depending on which side they fall.
If you want to learn much more about all these HUD stats make sure you check out BlackRain79’s popular optimal HUD setup guide.
In order to play the river effectively, you need to take into account a number
of factors, including, but not limited to: the pot odds, your relative hand
strength, board runout, type of opponent you’re up against, previous action
and so on.
You basically have to apply all of your theoretical knowledge at the same
time. While it may seem daunting at first, the more you practice, the more
automatic the process will become, and after a while you’ll be able to put
your opponents on correct ranges, maybe even zero in on their exact hand.
It will certainly take a great deal of practice, because as we know, most
hands don’t even get to showdown, and river spots are so rare and unique that
it’s hard to even try to answer what to do in these spots in a single article.
However, there are some general guidelines you should adhere to:
First of all, big river bets usually indicate a strong made hand, especially
at the micros. Most players will bet for value, and aren’t really inclined to
risk a significant portion of their stack without something to back it up.
The only exception would be loose and aggressive players, and maybe some solid
tight and aggressive players who know what they’re doing, and know that a well
timed aggression can go a long way.
But again, these are quite rare at the micros.
So against LAGs, you should try to bluff catch from time to time if you
believe they have a significant amount of bluffs in their range.
Just bear in mind that it’s a high variance play, so be prepared to take it in
stride when they actually had the nuts all along.
Against aggrofish (aka maniac fish) you should widen your river calling ranges
significantly, and be prepared to call them down with less than ideal
Don’t wait around for a monster hand, because these don’t come along as often,
and try to take their stack before the next guy.
Lastly, if an otherwise weak and timid player starts making huge bets, your
top pair hand probably isn’t good enough anymore.
Look for completed draws and assume they have it. Make a disciplined laydown
and live to fight another day.
One bonus tip, be sure to practice hand history review off the felt. Filter
for the hands that went to showdown, and try to narrow your opponent’s range
street by street.
Talk to yourself out loud and tell yourself all the information you have. This
will sharpen your decision-making skills in-game, and you’ll be able to
accurately assess your opponent’s ranges in no time.
You’ll be able to read souls, make all kinds of huge laydowns and hero calls
like a pro. Just remember, practice makes perfect.
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