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A Difficult River Decision

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Aug 01, 2010


I played a home game recently that threw up some interesting hands. One occurred which had a difficult decision at the end, and true to form for the month, I made the wrong decision. The game was nominally 10c-20c no-limit hold’em sixhanded, but every pot had at least two straddles, so it was really a 10c-20c-50c-€1 game. The stacks were all €400 at this point, except for one irrelevant short stack.

During the hand in question, the button, who works in I.T. and was playing about €600 (I covered) made it €3 to go. I called from the small blind with 3s 2s. One of the straddles also called so there was around €9 in the pot. The flop came up 10-8-7 with two clubs.

Not an ideal flop for my hand, but not one likely to cost me much money. It was checked all the way around. The turn was an offsuit two. From glancing around I could tell that nobody had much interest in the pot, so I led out for €7. When I lead out I’m planning on betting almost any river if I get a caller, as it’s very easy for someone to call one bet with a pair, but they will probably fold any one pair hand, that isn’t a ten, to two bets. The button, who was the original raiser, flat calls. The river was a 5, not completing any flush draws.

Following through with my plan, I bet €14 on the river. The button thinks for a while and makes it a little less than €44. Now without looking at him, or doing any soul reading, I know it’s very likely he is bluffing. He is a decent player, and there is no good hand that takes his line (not decent enough to realise his line makes no sense though). The only possibility is 5-5, which I think he just mucks on the turn most of the time. He will never check back a good hand on that board, it’s just too wet.

I know he is bluffing, so I should call since I have a pair right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Although I think he thinks he is bluffing, I also think that my hand looks relatively strong. Not massively strong (or else he wouldn’t be bluffing me) but since I led out into three people and then bet the river again, I think my hand looks like a good 10, possibly an 8, two pair or maybe even a stronger hand. As I said, I don’t think he checks a good hand back on the flop, but that doesn’t preclude him from checking back a pair, or more likely a pair and a draw of some sort, probably a gutshot.

The problem with my hand is that I have the worst possible pair with the worst possible kicker, (which really is a good indication of the right move preflop). One of the most annoying sensations in poker is to call someone’s large bet or raise on the river, safe in the knowledge that they were bluffing, only to find out that they were in fact bluffing, however they have a slightly better hand than you do.

After thinking through the hand for a period, I realised that by far the best line to take was to immediately three-bet the river to about €135. I need to make it so much he doesn’t get curious (this was a home game after all). If I take this line he should fold out almost his entire range, so I don’t have to worry about losing to a slightly better pair (that is, the range that gets to the river playing the way he did).

Triple fives may or may not call (in one sense it shouldn’t, as I’m never value raising worse, but since I am bluffing I couldn’t criticise a call). I felt at the time though that this option was no longer available to me, I had waited too long and given off tells that my hand was very weak.

At this point, as I was contemplating raising, the other players at the table started getting restless and demanded I made a decision. In the end I decided I couldn’t contemplate the idea of calling and being shown a slightly less terrible hand, so I folded. The button proudly showed his K-J off-suit (for nothing).

The biggest mistake I made in the hand was not thinking through the river fast enough, and also through body tells and timing, excluding myself from raising on the river. To be fair though, it’s very rare that you will be raised there, and I hadn’t been expecting it. Spade Suit

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.