The river is a volatile part of poker

The river is a volatile part of poker

April 11, 2017 3:00 AM
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As you know, in Texas hold’em, after two hole cards are dealt face-down to each player, five cards are dealt face-up. The last card dealt is called the “river.” When an opponent catches a river card that gives him the hand that beats yours, you have been “rivered.”

Every poker player is bound to experience being rivered, perhaps several times during a single session. To say the least, it sure does hurt. You were ahead all the way until the river! Caution: Avoid going on tilt on such occasions. I have seen a player get so angry when he was rivered as to blame the dealer for his bad luck, and, snarling, fling his hole cards at her.

The lucky opponent may have been a huge underdog before the river, but that one final card made all the difference. By way of illustration, here is a hand that happened to me a few months ago:

I was dealt pocket Aces in the hole – the very best starting hand I could hope for. That put me well in the lead over every other player at our table – favored to beat each about 80 percent of the time. I could feel the inner excitement as I anticipated scooping the pot. From the hi-jack position, I raised to thin the field, so my pocket Aces would have a better chance of keeping the lead. Four opponents stayed to see the flop with me, including both blinds:

K-10-5 rainbow.

The betting was checked to me, respecting my preflop raise. The two blinds and I saw the turn: The 3 of clubs. That looked like a pretty safe card for my hand. I felt confident my pocket Aces was still well ahead. Again, it was checked to me, so I made a value bet. Both opponents called.

The river – ah, the river! – was another 10, putting a middle pair on the board. Again, the betting was checked to me; so, feeling confident in the strength of my hand, I made the big bet on the river. The Small Blind folded – no surprise there. But then the Big Blind raised me! It was a check-raise. What could he have? I had evaluated him as a fairly loose and deceptive player; he could be bluffing. On the other hand, it is possible he made trip 10’s. That would make mincemeat of my two-pair, Aces and 10’s.

I decided to call. Yes, he did catch trips on the river. It wasn’t a bad beat – the most demoralizing way to lose a hand. There were only two more 10’s in the deck – two outs. But, he also had a Jack in the hole along with his 10, so he actually had five outs in all – still a big longshot. The odds were over 8-to-1 against him. Before the river, I was about a 90% favorite to take that pot.

Two sides of the river

Funny how we can long remember hands like this – when we are rivered while holding a strong hand. But there are two sides of the river: The right bank and the left bank. Getting rivered may well be the left side of the river – the “wrong” side but, nevertheless, quite real.

But, it also works the other way around: The “right” side of the river is when you are the lucky one who catches the card on the river that suddenly elevates your hand to the best – the winning hand! Somehow, we are less inclined to recall that case – even though it could have filled another rack of chips for you, and put you well ahead for this session.

You get to scoop the pot with a big smile on your face, as you announce to all, “Boy, was I lucky!” – and indeed you were.