McHaffie: MCU lesson 128 / River Advice

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

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 128: River advice to consider

How many of you are afraid to test you weak hands on the river? Mike says that “a raise costs no more in relative size than a call would if the pot were half as big.” He urges you to raise even if you have a pitiful hand, if you believe your opponent could be bluffing.

Yes, your heart is going to beat like a jack hammer in your chest when you try this, but sometimes you should go for it, because the times you’re able to pull it off might just compensate for the times you aren’t.

You have to be on your toes, watching for any tells that your opponent might accidentally give away, which can enable you to attempt raising on the river with “broken straights” (9-8-6-5-4) and flushes when you feel your opponent could be bluffing. Using this concept to your advantage gives you an added edge in your game. And, all those additional edges can increase your bankroll.


You want to be stingy about raising on the river if you’re playing from middle position with a credible hand. But you might do it with a weak hand if you’re quite sure the bettor is bluffing. You should also be mindful of the dangers of bluffing with weak hands from middle position after the first player checks.


If you’re slowly building your bankroll from successfully calling on the river, Mike says you may not be calling enough. That’s right! You’re probably only calling when you have big advantages. That seems good, but what about all those times you’re in doubt about what the other player is holding — times when you think you might have the better hand, but you’re hesitant to make the call?

Mike states that you only need to win occasionally to make it worthwhile to call on the river. So, you should be calling more frequently on the river, because the times you do win will offset those times that you don’t. If you’re winning pots too consistently by calling, you might need to call more often.


Many skilled players tend to overcall entirely too often on the river, not realizing that they need a much more significant hand to do so than to be the initial caller. It’s daring to call one opponent on the river, but to call two opponents can be suicidal. Why? Well, you now have two opponents to overpower, the bettor and the first caller. You might beat the bettor and still lose.

When you’re playing from middle position and holding a fairly strong hand, calling is often your most-profitable choice of action on the river. Even if your instinct is yelling at you to raise, you should usually overcome that urge and just call, Mike says, unless your hand is “truly monumental.” You need an extremely, noteworthy hand to raise on the river from middle position. Remember that and you’ll save yourself some heartache and possibly a portion of your bankroll. It’s been proven, Mike explains, that sometimes calling with a fantastic hand can also gain you more profit than raising with it from the middle position on the river. Try it!

Ah, but remember the exclusion. If you have a strong hint that the bettor could be bluffing, and there’s a player behind you waiting to act that shows signs of possibly calling, then raising with a mediocre hand could be best. It’s possible you’ll put a damper on the waiting player who might have you beat, thereby netting you the pot.


If you’re holding a semi-weak hand, sometimes you have to take the initiative on the last betting round when you’re first to act. If you check and your opponent bluffs, you’re probably going down. Conversely, if you had bet, the bluffer would have stepped down. Then the pot would be yours!

These are some things to keep in mind the next time you have a decision to make on the river. — DM

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