One way to decide whether to call a big river bet is to ask yourself “What can I beat?” And of course, it the situations that require this question, the answer usually is “very little” or sometimes “only a bluff.”
This typically occurs when you have some showdown value – let’s just call it a medium strength hand – and the villain’ s range is somewhat polarized.
Here is an example – poorly done on my part as usual – from a live $1/$1 no limit cash game last night.
I am in the cutoff seat, with A-9 off suit. Villain (I’ll call him Dennis the Menace) is the Big Blind and the player to his left (UTG) posts a $2 live straddle. We end up in a 4-way limped pot, so there is $8 in the pot. I have position on the other players, and effective stacks are approx. $120.
Flop: K-K-T. A somewhat scary flop. All three players check, so I toss out $6 hoping to take it down without a fight, which would be nice since I totally whiffed on the flop. Only Dennis the Menace in the BB calls. This is my first time playing with him, and so far he has been winning but not made any fancy plays. Moderately tight, moderately aggressive, nothing stands out.
At this point, I have nothing but Ace-high, and his range is narrowed to a K, a T, or a straight draw with Q-J, possibly with some gutshot draws or lower pocket pairs if he reads me (correctly) for a bluff. Pre-flop he just limped in from the BB.
Turn ($20): Ace. Nice, now I actually have some showdown value. But his Q-J makes a straight, and any K stills beats me too. He checks, so I check behind. Now I would be happy to check this down to the river and have a showdown.
River ($20): 8. No flushes are filled, so this card changes nothing unless he floated my flop bet with exactly 8-8. Unlikely. Now he leads out with a bet of $16.
He also looks confident.
I had a discussion earlier in the day with a buddy about the biggest leak in my game continuing to be self-management. When I just know I’m beat, I still call too much, thus giving away a lot of value. River bets are the largest, and here is another example. It cost just $2 to see the flop. I bluffed for another $6 on the flop. Now it will cost $16 more to find out if my hand is good. It doesn’t feel very good. I know I should fold.
But I don’t. First, I take some time to think through the possibilities, and still come up with his holdings narrowed to any K, any T, or QJ.
What Can I Beat??? I am only beating the T or a bluff. If he had a Ten, wouldn’t he also want to check this down? Or is he bluffing the original bluffer? I haven’t seen indications of this type of play from him. But I’ve never played with him before last night.
So I do what bad poker players do: I rationalize. My hand is probably (very probably) second best, but I’ll pay him off anyway so I can learn how he played this hand and have a better point of reference in the future.
Announcing that I’m probably beat, I make the call. Dennis the Menace turns over K-T, for a flopped full house.
I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.