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A Costly River Check

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Feb 13, 2019

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I recently witnessed a hand in a $3,500 buy-in WPT event that illustrates a clear error that many poker players make on a regular basis. Early in the tournament with blinds at 200-400, a loose, aggressive player raised to 800 out of his 20,000 effective stack, the small blind called, and our Hero called in the big blind with 9Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit, which is a perfectly fine hand to defend.

The flop came 10Diamond Suit 7Heart Suit 2Heart Suit, giving Hero an open-ended straight draw with a weak backdoor flush draw. The small blind and Hero checked to the initial raiser who bet 600 into the 1,200 pot. The small blind folded.

At this point, Hero can either raise or call. While calling is certainly acceptable due to the excellent pot odds, it is not an attractive play because quite often, the turn will check through and then on the river, Hero will be out of position against a range that if structured properly, can easily defend against a river bet. Raising is usually the best play because it gives Hero a much better chance of winning the pot, either immediately on the flop, when he improves to a straight by the river, as well as when he misses and continues bluffing. That’s a lot of ways to win!

Hero raised to 1,800 and the opponent called. The turn was the 2Spade Suit.

Although this is one of the worst cards in the deck for Hero to continue bluffing, he should probably still fire again, given he has one of the worst hands in his range (in terms of showdown value) that still has a decent amount of equity. Be careful to not bluff too often in this spot though, because if you bet with all your draws, your opponent can easily call down with all bluff catchers because your range will be much too weighted towards draws. Given Hero should check with a decent portion of his busted draws that have a bit of showdown value (mostly flush draws with an over card), he should use a small bet size on the turn.

Hero bet 1,800 into the 4,800 pot and his opponent called. The river was the QHeart Suit.

At this point, Hero has an easy bluff, using a fairly large bet size. This card should be quite bad for the opponent’s range, which should consist of mostly marginal made hands and a few flushes. Notice the Queen of Hearts blocks many of the flushes that could have been in the opponent’s range (AHeart Suit QHeart Suit, KHeart Suit QHeart Suit, QHeart Suit JHeart Suit, QHeart Suit 10Heart Suit, QHeart Suit 9Heart Suit), making it less likely he actually has a flush. Hero’s 9Heart Suit also blocks some of the flushes (AHeart Suit 9Heart Suit, KHeart Suit 9Heart Suit, JHeart Suit 9Heart Suit, 10Heart Suit 9Heart Suit, 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit), making it even more likely the opponent has a marginal made hand that should fold to a sizable bet.

Instead of making the obvious bluff with one of the best bluffing hands in his range, Hero checked, which is a clear mistake. You simply must be willing to pull the trigger when you run a bluff and the board runs out favorably for your range. Notice Hero could easily have a full house or flush at this point that would certainly want to bet for value, meaning he has plenty of room to add bluffs to his betting range.

The opponent checked behind, winning the pot with AClub Suit 7Spade Suit, one of the hands that would almost certainly fold to a substantial river bet. While some people may attempt to justify Hero’s check by saying the opponent may be a calling station who was never folding no matter how the board ran out, if that were the case, Hero should not have check-raised the flop in the first place. In general, this is a standard spot to bluff on all three streets. Failing to do so will make it difficult for Hero to win at poker in the long run. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at HoldemBook.com/signup.