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River Bet Sizing

by Ed Miller |  Published: May 29, 2013


Ed MillerOne of the beauties of no-limit hold’em is that you can size your bets however you want. I’ve noticed, however, that many — if not most — players don’t take active advantage of this option. Their bet sizes all fall within certain prescribed amounts. When figuring a bet on the river, these players might try to decide between $60 or $80 or $100. But they won’t even consider $10 or $400.

If all your bet sizing decisions fall within a range of half-pot plus-or-minus 20 percent, you’re not actually making bet sizing decisions. Put another way, if you stopped the charade of “bet sizing” completely and just committed to betting a fixed amount, it probably wouldn’t affect your bottom line much.

I try to think more holistically about bet sizing on all streets, but I’ll concede that I tend to fall within a pretty narrow range of bet sizes preflop and on the flop. On these early streets, I have less information to go on, and I’m generally just trying to set things up for a profitable turn and river.

But on the river, my bet sizing varies from a single chip to a four-or-more-times-pot overbet shove. In other words, on the river all possible bet sizes are in play.
In this article I’ll present two common scenarios where I choose extreme bet sizes. This analysis is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it will get you thinking.

Thin Value Bets

In small-stakes no-limit games, free showdowns are rampant. Across America, tens of thousands of hands every day get played as follows: flop check-bet-call, turn check-bet-call, river check-check-showdown.

People check too many value hands. They are all too happy to see a free one with their top pair or overpair. I presume that many players choose a free showdown with the following logic, “Gee, if I bet $150 he’ll never call with a worse pair. Not with that flush on board. And hey, he might have the flush. That would suck. Time to check.”

You may already anticipate my response to this logic. Ok, maybe he won’t call $150 with just a pair. But what about $5? Do you think he’ll be able to fold anything in this $200 plus pot for just $5?

For those who haven’t tried the experiment, the answer is no. When you toss a single chip into a 50 chip pot, your opponent will smirk and lob in a chip to match holding anything that looks remotely proper for showdown.

If you have a hand that’s usually ahead on the river, it deserves a $5 bet.

Ok, if $5, how about $10? If $10, how about $20? If $20, how about $40?

With some hands you don’t get much beyond $10. While seemingly no one can fold to the insult of a single chip bet, once you get to four chips, people start to fold.

Experiment. See what people call with (and what they fold) for various small bet sizes. Then, armed with that knowledge, you can properly value your thin value hands.

“But what if I get raised?” you ask. “What if I get bluffed?”

Many players will literally never bluff you after you do this. It’s just not something they do. Other players will be emboldened by the small bet size to run a bluff. Both of these players are just fine to try this small bet against. Against the ones who are triggered to bluff — you just call the raise. You were value betting a decent hand against worse hands, right? And now you think you’ve triggered the guy to bluff, right? So call.

The other upside to this play is that you begin to get a feel for how little you have to bet to get people to fold on the river. In some situations, you can bluff $30 into a $200 pot and get folds. This, too, is often worth trying.


I overbet the river frequently. Most people don’t. In my opinion, it’s a valuable part of my no-limit arsenal.

Principally, I use overbetting to counter people who try to pot-control. Pot-controlling in no-limit hold’em is on one level a silly concept, since at any time you are always allowed to shove.

Trying to control the pot size with checks (often on the turn) is a very common strategy. The idea is sound. You have a hand without a lot of value, and you therefore don’t try to build too large a pot. But there is a sometimes fatal flaw.

Players don’t try to pot-control when they have the nuts. Once you see opponents use pot-controlling lines, you can often narrow their ranges down to just a few candidate hands. This is particularly true when the board offers draws such that the nuts could easily shift on the river card. Few no-limit players like to play possum on the turn with a very strong hand when they could face a tough river decision.

Thus, most players pot-control with medium strength hands. These same players fold these medium strength hands when you wildly overbet the river.

It’s basically that simple. Once players all but admit they don’t have the nuts by taking a pot control line, they are vulnerable to an overbet. Most players fold the first time they see such an overbet.

It’s possible that after a while players might adjust and start to call the overbets with their pot-controlling bluff-catcher hands. If that happens, you just start overbetting for value with your big hands.

There is no answer to this overbetting strategy. If you mix value overbets and bluff overbets well, the pot-controller is completely thwarted. Unless you take care to balance well, pot-controlling simply releases too much information about your hand strength. It can be crushed with river overbets.

Final Thoughts

No-limit hold’em allows you to choose any bet size you please. When you make your bets, particularly on the river, take this license to heart and consider all possible bet sizes. If you restrict yourself to just two options — checking or betting a fairly specific amount — you become forced to check in profitable situations. These situations are sometimes exploitable by particularly small or large bets. Take a few extra seconds next time it’s your action on the river and expand your thought process. You might find something new you’ve been missing. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at Find Ed on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.