River Bluffs in Limit Hold’em
It isn’t easy to get opponents to fold on the river given the size of the pot; however, there are situations here and there which arise which will give you an opportunity to try and steal the pot. The most common example is when you are on a draw and you continue to bet the river hoping that your opponent will fold a busted draw or weak pair at online poker.
Occasionally, you can use a scare card on the river to attempt a bluff. For example, a suited card falls, or the board pairs and you represent trips, or an ace comes on the river and you represent the ace. These kinds of plays generally only work though against players who don’t follow the river rule and are capable of laying down a hand on the river. There aren’t many of these players so you should only try these plays in specific situations.
Realize that bluffs do not have to be highly successful in order to be profitable. If there are five or six big bets in the pot, you only have to be successful a small percentage of the time for the bluff to show a profit.
Bluff raises on the river are even more difficult to pull off profitably, as it is difficult to get an opponent to fold who has already bet on the river, and you have reduced pot odds on your raise. The best time to attempt a bluff raise is when you expect your opponent is also on a bluff and your hand can’t even beat a bluff.
Let’s look at some examples to test your skills.
1/ $20-$40. You hold T ♣ 8 ♣ in the small blind. An early player limps in and you call. Three players see the flop of 9 ♣ 6 ♥ 6 ♦ . You bet, the big blind raises, and you decide to call. The turn is the 2 ♣. You check and the big blind checks. The river is the 9 . There is $140 in the pot. What do you do?
Answer: Your opponent’s check on the turn indicates weakness. He may have had a pair of 9’s and was worried about trips, but he also might be holding a draw or a small pocket pair. The pot odds are sufficient for you to represent a full house and bet out a bluff. Bet.
2/ $15-$30. You hold A ♦ K ♠ in the small blind. An early player raises and a middle player calls. You only call and the big blind calls. Four players see the flop of 9 ♦ 5 ♠ 2 ♦ . The big blind bets and everyone calls. The turn is the 3 ª. The big blind bets and everyone calls. The river is the 5 ♥. The big blind checks, the early player bets, and the middle player calls. There is $360 in the pot. What do you do?
Answer: Bluff raises on the river rarely are successful. However, sometimes you can spot opportunities such as in this example. The early player has limped along the entire hand and decides to bet out when a 5 comes on the turn. It is possible he has a hand like A-5 but doubtful since he raised preflop. The middle player obviously has a weak hand or he would have raised on one of the earlier betting rounds. Raising in this situation will represent trip 5’s and make it very difficult for one of your opponents to call. Your bluff only has to work once every seven times to break even. Raise.
In the actual hand, the player folded. The early player showed Q ♠ T ♠ and the middle player A ♠ 2 ♠ .
3/ $30-$60. You hold 3 ♦ 3 ♠ in the cutoff in a six-handed game and raise first in. The big blind calls and two players see the flop of A ♦ T ♦ 8 ♦ . Your opponent checks, you bet, and your opponent calls. The turn is the T ♠ and you both check . The river is the A ♠. Your opponent suddenly bets out. There is $255 in the pot. What do you do?
Answer: About the only hand a reasonable player could bet here is an ace, or possibly a T. If he had an ace, you would expect a check-raise on the flop, or for him to bet out the turn to protect against a flush draw. When an opponent suddenly changes his betting pattern from one of weakness to one of strength you must be suspicious. Unfortunately, you can’t even beat the board so your only option is to raise if you want to win the pot. It will cost you $120 to win $255 so you only need to be correct 1 in 3 times for the bluff to be profitable. Raise.
4/ $20-$40. You hold Q ♦ Q ♠ in middle position. An early player calls, you raise, and the button calls. The big blind reraises and everyone calls. There is $330 in the pot. The flop is was 6 ♥ 5 ♥ 3 ♦ . It is checked to you, you bet, and everyone calls. The turn card is the 9 ♠ . It is checked to you, you bet, the button calls, and the big blind raises. Everybody calls and the button is all-in at this point. There is $730 in the pot. The river is the dreaded J ♥. The big blind checks and the early player suddenly wakes up and bets. There is $770 in the pot. What do you do?
Answer: It appears that the player in early position is sitting on a flush. However, the correct play for him would have been to check-raise the flop with a flush draw. A set of jacks doesn’t make sense either. The river bet is a little suspicious giving you reason to at least call.
Unfortunately, you have the player in the big blind to worry about also. He check-raised the turn in a multi-way pot indicating strength. He could very well be on a set or two pair. However, if you raise, it would be very difficult for the big blind to call with even a set. Not only must he call two big bets, he faces the risk that the player behind him reraises (although he could probably definitely fold at that point).
You are going to call at least the $40 given the size of the pot, so a raise only costs you $40 more to win $810 (we’re including your $40 river call in the size of the pot). If your raise saves you the pot once every 21 times you show a profit. You won’t be successful very often, but you don’t need to be to show a profit. It’s a risky advanced play but with a decent chance at success. Raise.
In the actual hand, the player only called. The big blind showed AA and the early player A-7.