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River Play - Part II

by Thomas Keller |  Published: Aug 01, 2006


Part I of this series discussed the fact that too many players go to showdown with less than premium hands in unfavorable situations. But most players don't realize how bad it is to play the opposite way, as well.

In this column, my friend Ray, who is writing the bulk of this series of columns, will discuss how not showing down enough can be just as bad for your bankroll as showing down too often.

As I indicated in the last issue, as a moderator for, I see a lot of threads that spark ideas for me on things to discuss with Thomas. In Part I, I discussed the thread that sparked the idea for this series. A player was discussing his Poker Tracker stats, and I noticed that his W$SD (Won $ at Showdown) was low. At about the same time, in an unrelated thread about how players deal with the reputation of being extremely tight, someone said, "I don't get involved in huge pots with anything less than the nuts."

Of course, I am being unfair to take the quote out of context, but it reminded me of how confusing the concept of W$SD is to new players. They believe their W$SD should be about 100 percent, give or take a bad beat every now and then. That dream makes sense, but realizing it would likely result in an incredibly weak-tight style of play. Consider how often you really flop the nuts in poker. Now try to determine how often you flop the best possible hand and still have the best possible hand by the river. Think about it, it happens quite rarely, trust me. If you're always waiting to be sure that you have the best possible hand to make it to a showdown, I predict a lot of bad folding decisions on your part in the future.

The reality is that you want to give yourself a chance to win a large pot whether you have the best hand or not. Sometimes you do this through bluffing or semibluffing, and sometimes you just call down with an average or weak hand, hoping that it is, in fact, the best hand. When the pots are large, you do not have to win too many of them to make calling down with a probable worse hand worthwhile.

Consider the following example:

It's a sixhanded limit hold'em game and you are dealt the Aclub Adiamond and are first to act. You raise, the next player reraises, both blinds call, and you cap the betting while wondering what all of your opponents are holding to stay in and fade so much action. The flop comes A-J-7 with two clubs. Your hand, top set, is currently the best possible hand. Rather than attempting any trickery, you bet. The next player raises, the small blind folds, the big blind calls, you reraise, the raiser caps the betting, and you and the big blind both call. Note that the pot is now quite large, containing 14 big bets. The turn brings the 10spade and you decide to bet out again, even though you currently would be losing if one of your opponents held K-Q or 9-8, as both of these hands would have turned a straight. Both of the other players in the pot finally just call, and you are confident that you have the best hand, at least for the moment. Note that there are now 17 big bets in the pot.

The river brings an ugly card for you, the Qclub. Now you're beat if either opponent holds a king or any two clubs, as well as the 9-8. Given how many hands now have you beat, you decide to check. The next player mucks his hand in furious fashion (for zero bets!), but the last player bets. Given this opponent's post-flop play of the hand, you are relatively certain that he has been calling all this way to try to catch a straight or a flush, and now has likely rivered a better hand than yours. So, you are presented with the dilemma of calling or folding to this last bet. Despite your strong suspicion that you no longer have the best hand, is it the right play to lay down your top set, all things considered?

Your decision should be fairly obvious, to make a crying call. Without a dynamite read that your opponent caught a better hand than yours on the river, there is no way you can fold in this spot. The pot is simply too big, requiring your hand to have to hold up only a bit more than 5 percent of the time to make calling worthwhile. Clearly, you're going to risk one more bet here on the chance that you'll win 18 big bets.

This example is extreme, but it fully illustrates my point. There are going to be hands with which you want to call down to try to win a big pot.

W$SD is a tricky statistic to understand but to utilize, and when it is balanced, you will likely see a drastic improvement in your poker results. You also need to understand that trying to control your W$SD is an indirect process. You can't look at your W$SD and think that since it is low, you should start showing down fewer hands unless they are monsters. The complex variables of the playing styles and skills of your opponents, pot sizes, and textures of the board (along with numerous others issues) factor into how you should play each hand. Keep in mind, though, that even though W$SD is important, your goal should never solely be to meet an "acceptable statistical range" on some tracking program. Keeping your W$SD percentage in mind is a great idea, but still focus on playing your best game both preflop and post-flop, and don't be too concerned with any one statistic, at least not in the short term. W$SD is one statistic that forces you to focus on many important aspects of your game, but trust us, the improvement you'll see in your poker results will be well worth it. spade

Thomas "Thunder" Keller is a 25-year-old professional poker player and one of poker's young and rising stars. He can often be found playing at under the name thunderkeller. To learn more about him and to enlist in his new squadron, go to his website at Also, feel free to contact him at Ray Powers is an aspiring poker player and avid student of the game. He also runs the poker forums at, where he advises players on all aspects of poker. You can e-mail him at