One of the biggest mistakes many poker players make is bluffing too much on the river. Now, there are times when such a bluff makes sense: when you can’t win by checking, a scare card has come on the river (presenting many straight/flush/high pair possibilities), and/or your opponent might have missed a draw, but can win with a hand like ace high. Those are all good opportunities to bluff the river. What doesn’t make sense is bluffing just for the sake of being aggressive, or as a last-minute attempt to steal the hand after checking all the way through.


Now, if bluffing the river is so dangerous (because it often doesn’t work), raising the river is an even stronger move. A strong, competent player that raises big on the river is rarely making a move, especially if his opponents have shown interest in the pot from the beginning. A recent hand I played illustrates this point, as well as several other important concepts.


I was in the small blind with 43. The big blind was a tight, weak player, so I wasn’t concerned about him at all. The button was extremely loose, limping in with ~80% of his hands and betting very aggressively. Everyone folded around to the loose, aggressive button, who naturally limped (he never folded a hand on the button the entire time he was at my table). I completed the small blind, and the big blind checked.


The flop came 345. Now, with bottom two pair, I’d bet this aggressively so I don’t risk getting counterfeited on a later street. Plus, anyone with a 2 or a 6 has a straight draw, so I want to protect my hand. But acting out of the small blind, I usually check and see what happens with the other players. Here, I’m even more inclined to check since the loose, aggressive button always bets when checked to in position. I can earn another bet by check-raising here.


I check, the big blind checks, and then the button checks. Now, at this point, warning sirens should have been going off in my head. It’s never a good sign when a player acts out of character. It’s a very bad sign when an aggressive player checks in an obvious bluffing situation. But somehow I forgot one of my own poker tips in my delight at having flopped two-pair. Admittedly, two-pair is a big hand to flop, but on a board like this I could be staring down two likely straights (heck, the extremely loose button could even have a 62 for all I’d know) or three possible small sets. It’s impossible this loose aggressive player is checking a straight draw because he always bets his draws.


The turn is a real disaster card for my hand: an ace. At this point I’m worried about the big blind possibly having a deuce. Heck, the button could even be holding a deuce because he’d limp with any two cards in position. Not wanting to build a big pot with a vulnerable hand, and not wanting to risk a raise from the loose, aggressive button, I check again. I fully intend to call if the button bets, but I don’t want to help build a bigger pot than I have to at this point. This is especially so since the button has me covered. The big blind also checks, and the button checks yet again.


Now, not bluffing in position at a coordinated flop might be understandable. But an aggressive player not taking a stab at the pot after a scary turn card and two checks in a row from his opponents? I should have smelled the danger from a mile away. Instead, I obliviously watched the river bring a queen. Hoping to extract a little value from my small two pair if either player hit that queen, I make a small 1/3 pot bet.


The tight, weak big blind calls. Then the loose, aggressive button raises the size of the pot. Now, at this point, I have to fold. You never want to put yourself in the middle of two other players actively contesting the pot without one heck of a hand. My small two-pair doesn’t fit the bill. Also, the call from the tight, weak big blind is disturbing: he must have something (and probably more than just a queen). Plus, the button has behaved suspiciously this hand from beginning to end; it’s looking increasingly likely that he flopped some kind of monster and was slow-playing.


I fold, and the big blind calls. The big blind turns over a deuce for a 5-high straight. The button turns over a 76 for the nuts: he’d flopped a 7-high straight. He checked twice in a row and raised the river to extract some more money from his hand. The moral of the story is clear: a raise on the river is rarely a bluff!

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