Every poker player hates to be rivered – when an opponent draws out on him on the River.
While playing Texas hold’em at the casino, suddenly a player angrily shouted aloud: “Again! He rivered me again!” Then, venting his fury, he slammed his hole cards face-up atop the muck. Frustrated! His hand had been well in the lead from the flop on – until the river. What’s more, it was a bad beat; his opponent had only two outs – a huge longshot!
I can’t really blame that poor player. It seemed to be my fate too – getting rivered more and more often. Then it happened again. I was rivered on my final hand of the evening, drastically cutting my winnings for the session. (Fortunately, I do win most of my sessions). So, naturally, getting rivered was much on my mind while driving home that night.
It happened that I had kept track of how often I got rivered that session. (If you try it, I would welcome your findings.) It turned out I lost 11 hands that I played to the showdown. On six of those hands, I was rivered. Meanwhile, I won 11 hands that reached the showdown – none on the river. (I also won when my opponents folded before the river, as well as a fair number of bluffs.)
My friend Lucy commiserated with me. “I probably have lost just as many on the river,” she said.
She closed her eyes, and shook her head from side-to-side. She had nothing more to offer.
Laying in bed that night, this was much on my mind. Dozing off, I suddenly awoke with the thought that getting rivered so often is not just a matter of bad luck but simply a direct result of probability. With nine players at the table, you should expect to lose on the river quite frequently.
With four community cards face-up on the board, all kinds of hands can be in play. (We won’t try to figure the odds.) Since getting rivered is bound to happen now and then, the big question is how to reduce the frequency. That’s where skill plays a key role, one of which is effective bluffing. Use both bet size and the Esther Bluff as your tactics.
Skill in starting hand selection is crucial. If you play too many poor hands, you are doomed to get rivered more often. Toward that end, I recommend the Hold’em Algorithm. It takes into consideration the rank of your two hole cards, betting position, whether there have been any raises before you, how many opponents are staying to see the flop, and the game texture.
Having decided to invest in your starting hand, there will be many occasions when it is important to thin the field. A good case is when you have been dealt a made hand – A-A, K-K, or Q-Q. These are hands that could very well win the pot without further improvement. Probability tells us that the more opponents staying to see the flop with you, the more likely one will draw out on you – most likely on the river.
Play that hand aggressively. If an opponent bets out before you, your raise (a double-bet) could very well force others behind you to fold their hole cards. Thereby, you will have improved the chances your made hand will survive to take the pot – and less likely to get rivered.
Likewise, if you see the flop with a premium drawing hand or two unpaired honor cards (that satisfies the Hold’em Algorithm Starting Hand criteria). One out of three times, you will pair one of those two hole cards. It’s a good hand and may well be in the lead. But it is so vulnerable.
With three cards to come, including the river, there is a good chance one of your opponents would draw out on you. You should bet to represent a big hand – sort of a semi-bluff. A good-size raise and the use of the Esther Bluff tactic may be just what the doctor ordered to avoid getting rivered.