McHaffie: MCU lesson 098 / Calling a raise on the river

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2007.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 98: Should you call a raise on the river?

In limit hold ’em games, there’s a frequent error that tends to damage the bankrolls of both weak and knowledgeable players. It’s the error of calling too frequently on the river against a bet and a raise.

Players fail to consider the implications of the raise when added to the size of the original call. Yes, the pot appears big, resulting in the players seeing dollar signs instead of the reality of their cards. Their hearts beat in triple time as they survey their hand and the pile of chips before them.

Sad pot odds

Consider this: The call is going to cost twice as much as if the raiser had folded. But the pot hasn’t grown twice as big. As Mike explains, if the pot were $100 and the bet $10, then without the intervening raise, it would have cost $10 to take a chance of winning $110. You’d be getting $110-to-$10 on your money, 11-to-1.

But after the original bettor makes the pot $110, the raise builds it to $130. It costs you $20 to call (not just $10), and even if you predict that the original bettor will also call, that makes the three-way pot $160 at the showdown – and $20 of it will represent your call. You’ll be getting $140-to-$20 on your money, which is only 7-to-1.

If your head is dizzy from all those numbers, so is mine. That’s just the way Mike teaches, and we need to get used to it.

Even worse, you have to beat two other players, instead of just one. Plus the raise indicates the probability of a very strong hand, making your chances of winning more remote. In short, Mike says, you need bigger pot odds to justify a call against a raise. But, in fact, you always get smaller pot odds when someone raises. That means, you require a much stronger hand than you might assume to justify calling.

The situation

Whether or not your hand is strong enough depends on the situation. You can’t just ask, “What hands should I call with?” Each scenario is different. You’re either weak or strong, not based so much on your actual cards, but how they relate to the action and the traits of your opponents. You should even consider the order in which the cards arrived on the board. If the board is 9-9-K-4-2, then a player is more apt to have three nines than if the order were K-4-2-9-9. In the latter case, opponents are less likely to hang around to catch the third nine.

Remember the circumstances leading up to the bet and raise. Who played in what position? What are your opponents’ styles? Do they bluff frequently? Are they usually aggressive? How many opponents will act after you do? Questions, questions. The more you ask, the better your chances of making a good decision.


Most often, the player who raised is assuming that the bettor has a sizeable hand, yet he doubled the bet anyway. Therefore, he probably holds cards that he feels are significantly better. But that’s not always the case. He could be bluffing. Maybe he raised believing the original bettor was weak, so he’s trying to chase you out.

You should also think about any players who will act after you. What actions will they take? Will they be calling? If they call, will that work in your favor or against you?

Mike stresses that weak players as well as skilled players have a penchant for calling too frequently on the river after a raise. He says, “If you could tally all calls made by all players in this situation, you would quickly see that an overcall against the final-round raise loses money.”

It appears that unless you have a rather significant hand or a tell, calling on the river after a bet and a raise isn’t a wise move. — DM

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