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Folding a strong hand on the river

Article By: RuffPoker.com

It is a monumental reason why people lose money at poker. You get to the river and feel confident with your hand. It isn’t the nuts but it’s a strong hand, then somebody makes a big bet in front of you. What do you do? The next decision you make is a big one, likely affecting your balance for some time to come, such is the current pot and level of bet needed for you to see your opponents hand. If you fold you walk away from a hefty pot, if you call and lose, you lose even more money. But what if your hand is in front? What if your opponent/s is bluffing?

Folding a strong hand on the river is the toughest of all poker decisions to make, after all you have come this far and are holding something worth playing. Even if you aren’t, by this stage being so pot committed you want to see your opponents cards. Here folding a strong hand on the river is all about the four key elements of poker, position, opponents style, previous round action and probability.

For example are you first to act or in late position and how did people react to the cards that were shown on the flop and turn. Do you think your opponents have something or have they missed ‘outs’. Here on the river, is your opponent making a bet for the first time having hit top pair, a straight or flush? Have they checked with each previous round? Do they check normally? Has the river given them the card they were looking for or are they just trying to make an over bet to try and make you lay down? Weigh up how they play a hand when they do hit and when they don’t.

If they are passive chances are you can ride with them, but if they are aggressive then you have to decide if your cards hold up to many other possible winning combinations. You may be sat on a 10 flush, but where is the J, Q, K or A. Could they have one, did they bet big in previous rounds. If the pot odds give you the opportunity to make a call, do so, but if there is a substantial bet and the pot odds don’t stack up you should be disciplined, fold and move on, telling yourself that you saved yourself considerable heartache at the showdown with that lay down.

Of course there is always the annoying, nagging doubt that you let somebody bluff you out of a big pot and that their confidence from such a win has now been enhanced. You are right, they now have an edge in being aggressive and may bully the table as a result. But it happens all the time, players then get in an overconfident state of mind and end up walking in on one too many hands, thinking that their big betting psychology can scare people away. It won’t, not in the long run.

Folding a strong hand on the river requires extreme discipline. You must have a feel for your opponents and when you are beat. You must also have a table image that is not conducive to being bullied. If it is you will always feel the pinch when your strong (but not ‘nuts’) hand gets bet into by a player who knows you twitch and is brave enough to know you won’t call such a big bet on the river without holding the nuts. That is the beauty of poker. It is a game in the mind, not just on the table.

It also really does help to be able to differentiate between pot committed and plain pot lost. When you are pot committed you still have chances to win the pot, and therefore must decide if a bet is worth calling, and in this subject matter as we are discussing because we have a strong hand this may well be the case. However many weak players see the pot as an extension of their own stack and play hands according to these ‘rules’ even when the pot is ‘gone’, i.e. virtually impossible for them to win. This is common, as a pot doubles, triples, quadruples with every community card being shown a weak player will be ploughing chips in even if they don’t have particularly good pot odds, or worse still may do so when they are drawing dead, simply because they feel compelled to stay in to the showdown as ‘they’ve put in so much already’.

This must be eliminated from your thinking. Whatever is in the pot is ALWAYS ‘gone’. It is no longer a part of your stack. It is with the house until it is collected by the winning hand. Think of it this way and folding those tentative but good hands on the river will be an easier decision saving you a heap of money. It is a common element of poker at lower stakes tables that people are loose and try the bluff more, however their aren’t many that try it on the river against multiple opponents with big aggressive river bets. If someone does give you this sticky decision on the river weigh up his style and historical actions. You will most likely have an idea of whether they have something or not.

People don’t usually make major bets on the river unless they have a great hand or nothing. There is rarely an in between. It’s not worth the risk trying to catch them with a bluff here, remember, they’ll get caught out sometime. And if they have got you beat, caution by folding is much better than calling which is what your opponent is aching for you to do.