Getting rivered

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In a limit poker game, you hold the best hand all the way to the river, and have been betting it for value. You fully expect to take this pot; so the bigger it is, the better. On the turn you catch a set of Kings. Wow! You bet; both Jim and John call.

But then, on the river, a third diamond hits the board. Oh, oh…

What if one of them has two diamonds in the hole; your hand would be second best. Jim comes out betting. He had been checking and calling you all the way. He’s a conservative player – rather tight and not deceptive. Did he make the flush on the river?

After some thought, you decide the pot is big enough to warrant a call. As you feared, he connected with a Queen-high flush on the river. His hand wins the pot. You lost on the river. You look at him and say, “nice hand.” But deep within your gut, you bemoan your fate: Best hand all the way to the river; and then lost on the river… Rivered!

If you were a particular celebrity poker player often seen on TV, you might even tell him that he is a stupid idiot for calling you on the turn. (The first two readers to e-mail me the name of that celebrity player win copies of the Hold’em Algorithm; see ad elsewhere in SlotsToday.

But really, you should not be surprised when you lose on the river; and the caller likely was not a stupid idiot. Actually he made a wise decision by calling your bet on the turn. In our illustration above, with four-to-the-flush on the turn, your opponent had 8½ outs – since the 7d is a tainted out. (We give tainted outs ½ value.)

So the card odds were less than 5-to-1 against him. There were eight big bets in the pot; so he got 8-to-1 pot odds – considerably higher than the 5-to-1 card odds; so he had a Positive Expectation. His call on the turn was correct; he was not an idiot for making that play…

The Odds Are in Your Favor

Before the river, if you don’t hold the nuts or close to it, whenever the board contains two–to-a-flush or three cards in sequence, perhaps with one gap, realize that your opponent might catch one of the cards he needs to gain the best hand – and take the pot away from your anxious clutches. Still, the odds are in your favor; but long-shots sometimes do win (even at the race track).

Don’t check; make your bet – but don’t be surprised if you get “rivered.” (Besides, never give your opponent a free card to draw out against you; make him pay.) In the long run, the card odds will be in your favor, and you will come out ahead by making the bet. But at this particular moment, remember that the poker gods are quite fickle, and may chose to frown on you as they smile on your competitor.

Learn to accept getting ‘rivered’

Yes, it hurts to lose a pot on the river; but that’s poker… Grin and bear it. Don’t let it put you on tilt. Don’t shout and rave. Keep your cool, even as you live over that hand in your mind.

And be prepared for the next hand as the dealer passes out the hole cards. Next time it could be your turn to make the winning hand on the river.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted 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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