Mike Caro poker word is River

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.

It’s great to see you here again!

In this self-interview, I’m going to ask my own questions and then answer them — as usual. The topic is betting on the “river” — today’s word. We continue with question 134 in the series, but you don’t need to have read any of the previous 133 questions and answers to profit from these. Here we go…

Question 134: In no-limit hold ’em, how do you decide how much to bet on the river?

Well, one thing is for sure: Too many players choose the sizes of their bets at whim.

When you bet on the river, you need to ask yourself what the prospects are for you to win if there’s a showdown. Failure to think about that leads to inappropriate bets. I never make a river bet without first estimating my percentage chance of having the best hand in a showdown.

Question 135: That seems like a good habit. Can you be more specific?

If I’m bluffing with a hopeless hand, my chances of being called and winning are zero percent. Some bluffs, strangely, have a small chance of winning in a showdown, because on rare occasions opponents might call with weak hands worse than yours

That’s the difference between a pure bluff and a probable one. When you’re not bluffing, you’ve got to decide what degree of edge you have, ranging from tiny to huge.

Although it’s sometimes advised that you normally make the same-size wager, based on a proportion of the pot, whenever you bet on the river, I think that’s wrong. The reason some players advocate structuring wagers that way — such as always betting the size of the pot — is that the practice denies opponents the opportunity to gauge the strength of your hand by the amount of your bet.


Fine. It does that. But theoretically, you’d like to bet bigger when you have greater advantage. Well, you can.

Obviously, if you bet increasingly large in relation to how strong your hand is, astute opponents will eventually figure it out and you’ll be a sorry sucker. But if you randomize the size of your bets so that they average more with stronger hands, you’ll be less predictable and still, overall, be wagering your preferred amount.

Let’s say the pot is $1,000 and you have a small edge. You decide that an appropriate bet is $400. Fine, then if in 10 similar situations you bet $1,200, 100, 150, 400, 350, 250, 850, 100, 100, and 500, you are averaging $400 per bet.

Maintain the average

Actually, very rarely, you’d make much larger bets, too, just to keep opponents guessing, while choosing enough smaller wagers to maintain the $400 average. This is one of the methods I use when I program computers to play poker.

Keep in mind that some wagers are dictated by stack sizes. Sometimes, against short stacks, you should move all-in, no matter what. And sometimes it’s silly to bet, say, 90 percent of all-in, instead of 100 percent.

Choosing the right amount to bet is complex, but you can’t even begin to decide intelligently unless you first try to estimate what your chances are of winning in a showdown.

Question 136: Is that all?

No. You need to consider the likelihood that you will get to a showdown.

The more you bet, the less likely you are to be called, so the less likely you are to see a showdown. That’s why you don’t want to overbet a big hand or underbet a bluff.

With your big hands, you want opponents to survive to see the showdown, and with bluffs, you don’t. Choose the price of your wager in accordance with that obvious truth.

Question 137: So what is the right size for a river bet?

You’ve got to think in terms of selling. If you hold an unbeatable hand, you want to make a sale.

If you bet $10,000 and get called 20 percent of the time, that’s an average $2,000 profit per bet, and you’re still going to make more money than if you bet $1,000 and get called all the time.

You might believe that it’s better to get something than nothing, but that’s not looking at long-term profit. It’s often better to take the risk and end up with nothing, as long as you’re pricing your bet correctly. Correctly priced bets clearly make the most money, measured over time.

Question 138: Can you give an example of an overpriced river bet?

Sure. This one happens quite regularly. As an example, say you hold 9♣ 8♣ and, at the river, three opponents check to you with the board showing A♣ 7♣ A♥ J♠ 2♣.

You’ve made your flush, but you shouldn’t usually move all-in or make an especially large bet. If you do, you’re overpricing your hand and putting yourself at risk.

Your problem is that opponents with weaker holdings are going to be afraid of any legitimate betting hand. In their minds, you’re likely to have at least three aces, otherwise you’d probably just check against three players.

Not likely

Although you might get an occasional call from aces-up, that’s not apt to happen if you bet a large amount. Three aces will also call a small bet, but probably not a large one.

If you overbet and get called, you’re likely to lose most of the time! That’s because only a hand that beats your flush, such as a bigger flush or a full house, normally would risk a lot of money.

So, I’m typically going to decide that half the size of the pot is about right here — and I’ll randomize my betting to average that.

Making your bets the right size in no-limit poker is a science that’s worth understanding. — MC

Next self-interview: Pending

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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