Being ‘rivered’ in poker can work both ways

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Being rivered is bad enough. That’s when you are in the lead all the way until the river card, but that card destroys your lead and gives an opponent the best hand.

It is not pleasant when it happens to you; but, it’s bound to happen whether or not you like it. After all, a priori, the river card is just as likely as any of the other four cards on the board. Bear in mind there are also occasions when you are the lucky one who rivers an opponent. (But the ones we lose seem to make a deeper impression. That’s only human.)

Reduce the chance

Sure, you can take steps to minimize. For example, you can avoid playing at tables with lots of card-chasers or calling-stations, so you are less likely to be beat out on the river by such a player. In addition, you can raise when you catch two-pair on the flop, to force out opponents with draws, thereby protecting your vulnerable hand from opponents who might otherwise catch a good draw on the river to beat you out.

Bad beat

Worst of all is when you are the victim of a bad beat on the river. What could be more devastating to morale – and chip stacks! You had the best hand on the turn; you bet for value, assuming your full-boat was “certain” to take this pot, trying to build the pot as big as possible.

That is exactly what happened to me during the late stages of a Freeroll tournament at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. (That’s a free tournament where you qualify based on the number of hours played during a specified period of time. More hours earns more starting chips.)

The prize money was substantial: $25,000 to be divided among the top ten finishers. I had been doing quite well. The Hold’em Algorithm helped me avoid investing in losing hands; and, in addition to catching good hands, my two Esther Bluffs were successful.

So I was one of the chip leaders when we got down to the final three tables. (The tournament started with about 25 full tables.). In a middle position with 10-10 in the hole. I raised to force out opponents behind me with higher honor cards. Three of us saw the flop.

It was great for me: 10-4-6 rainbow. A set of Tens for me with no overcards on the board. What more could I ask! It was checked to me, and I made a big bet. This time only the Big Blind called. I figured him for a big pair.

The turn was another 4. That gave me a full-boat: Tens full of fours! I elated in anticipation of scooping a huge pot. The river – ah, the river card: The dealer calmly placed it face-up on the board. It was a big red King.

My last remaining opponent checked to me. I felt certain this was my pot. I made another big bet. Then my opponent suddenly announced: “Raise!” He had check-raised me. 

What could he be raising with? Of course I had to call his raise, hoping he had two-pair, Kings-and-fours. Alas, he turned over pocket Kings; his Kings-full beat my Tens-full!

Why a bad beat? In addition to being rivered – holding the best hand until the river card was turned up, I had suffered a rare Bad Beat. (I know, it happens to all of us sometime or other. But why me? Why now?)

Think about it

With pocket Kings, my opponent had just two outs to catch a third King – the only hand possible that would beat my Tens-full. The odds were about 20-to-1 against him. But it did happen. The pot was huge and likely cost me a win at that tournament. Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Better luck next time.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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