River can be sink or swim for poker win

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When playing Texas hold’em, the river may well be the most important card. It is the final card to be dealt out on the board.

Just before that, your hand consists of the four cards face-up (the flop and the turn) plus the two in the hole. That is six out of the seven cards that will make your final hand — almost 90 percent. As a result, you have the best opportunity to improve your hand.

Why is that card so vital? Let’s think about it.

Suppose you have been playing for a while this session and, unfortunately, you’re now quite a bit behind. You keep your emotions under control, but you cannot fool yourself. You manage to avoid going on tilt after losing a big hand with pocket Kings in the hole. Your opponent had been dealt pocket Aces.

Now, seated in the Big Blind position, you are dealt K-4 offsuit. That’s a Hi-Lo hand. You would have mucked that hand before the flop except there was no raise; so, you got to see the flop for free (We never refuse a free card). The dealer turns up the flop:

K – J – 2 offsuit

Your two Kings is top pair on the board. Wow! Your luck is changing, you reassure yourself. From the Big Blind, optimistically, you decide to bet out, hoping to thin the field so your K-K will have a better chance to keep the lead all the way to the showdown. Even so, you know your hand is in danger; what if an opponent also has a King in the hole — but, most likely with a bigger kicker?

With no raise after your bet, you are hopeful; but you guess that you may have about a 50-50 chance of having your hand hold up.

As the hand develops, the turn seems like a blank. You try but fail to observe any tells from your opponents still in the pot. You open bet again and are called by two opponents.

Now, comes the river — that all-important final card that may determine your fate. It is the 4s!

You have two pair — and a much better chance to take the pot. Realizing you had only three outs to catch a second 4, you were a big underdog. And we all know that underdogs usually lose. You got lucky — really lucky.

Once again, you bet out from the Big Blind. Only the Under-the-Gun and the Button call your bet — no raises. You are getting excited but manage to keep your emotions under control. “Maybe this is really my pot!”

The showdown begins. As you turn up your hole cards, silently praying, revealing the two pair, Kings and 4’s, the UTG shows his K-Q while shaking his head from side to side in disbelief. He was just rivered by you — thanks to your good luck from the poker gods. Instead of losing to his bigger kicker, you appear to have won the pot.

Then, the Button also turns up his hole cards: pocket Aces. They both had you beat until the river. We all know how dejected we become when we get rivered. You grin and mutter, “Sorry.” But you don’t really mean it.

As you rack up those beautiful chips, you realize that the 4 on the river has just doubled your chips. You now have twice as many as you did before that hand. What’s more, you are now well ahead for this session thanks to the river. 

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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