Owner and Lead Pro
Professional Cash game trainer Bart Hanson has been producing strategy content for over fifteen years. He first started on Live at the Bike! back in 2005, then moved on to host "Cash Plays" on Poker Road, then "Deuce Plays" on Deuces Cracked and then to CrushLivePoker in 2012.
In his career as a professional poker player, Bart Hanson has:
-6 WSOP Final Tables
-Over 15 years of experience at the table
-Over $1,000,000 in tournament earnings
-Multiple appearances on ESPN and Poker Night in America
-4th place finish in 2019 WSOP Monster Stack
Have you ever found yourself holding a fairly strong hand on the river when first to act and can’t decide whether to bet for value or to check call? All too often players take the road of least resistance and just go for the check-call, win the pot, and pat themselves on the back. The truth of the matter is that these players are giving away money that is rightfully theirs by not betting for value in dicey river situations. Today we’ll check out a hand from a Crush Live Poker member who may not have applied enough aggression and missed out on some extra cash.
Before we analyze the hand in depth, let’s take a brief look at the hand history:
Hand Breakdown: $1/$2 No Limit, $300 effective stacks
HJ opens to $10, Hero calls in the BB with Q ♦ T ♦.
The flop is A ♦ 8 ♦ J ♣ ($20).
HJ bets $5, Hero check-raises to $25, HJ calls.
The turn is the 8 ♣ ($70).
Hero bets $30, HJ calls.
The river is the K ♣ ($130).
Hero checks, HJ bets $35.
Preflop Dynamics and Analysis:
The Hijack (HJ) opener is described by our Hero as a pretty capable player, and his raise size is pretty standard and consistent every time he opens the action. With Q ♦ T ♦ in the BB calling seems like a completely reasonable play, there's no need to get out of line and 3-bet too much, especially in a seemingly tight $1/$2 game where a $10 raise only gets a single caller.
The flop comes out A ♦ 8 ♦ J ♣ ($20), giving Hero the second nut flush draw and a gutshot straight draw. HJ c-bets for a tiny $5 sizing, and Hero decides on a raise to $25. Raising this miniscule bet is definitely the correct decision with this hand, you simply cannot allow your opponents to just make tiny bets and realize the equity they have in the hand. While our hand happens to be a massive draw that makes for a great raise no matter what, we should look to exploit these small sizes and raise more hands in our range against them, so as to charge our opponents and not allow them to take the betting lead for such a small amount. HJ calls Hero’s raise on the flop, and we’re off to the turn.
The turn pairs the board, making it A♦ 8 ♦ J ♣ 8 ♣ ($70). This is one of the worst cards for Hero, since he can’t have either AA or JJ in his range. Hero can have AJ and can have a hand like A8s or J8s, but his total number of combinations have gone down from when he check-raised the flop. Nevertheless, Hero decides to lead this turn for $30, about a 1/2 pot sized bet.
Hero stated (on the Call-In Show) that he bet here with the intention of not allowing Villain to check behind with an ace, because he didn’t know what he would do if his draw bricked and he couldn’t get Villain off of his hand with a single bet. This is an odd way to think about the situation, since Villain checking back an ace is not bad for us at all. If Villain is really playing that nitty and just trying to call down and get to showdown, we could just check the turn, let him check it back, and see a river card for free. If we hit our hand on the river we can bet big and try to get a call, if we brick we can just give up on the hand and move on. Betting just inflates the pot and this sizing will never get an ace to fold. Villain tanks for over a minute before calling, and we’re off to see one more card.
The river is gin for our Hero, as he makes a broadway straight on A ♦ 8 ♦ J ♣ 8 ♣ K ♣ ($130). While the backdoor flush does come in and the board is paired Hero’s hand still fairs to be best given the action of the hand. For some reason, however, the wetness of the board scares our Hero and he checks.
This passive river decision is problematic for a couple reasons. First, Villain didn’t show strength on the flop. Typically, when players have a strong hand on the flop they look to either fastplay their hand because they’re scared of getting sucked out on, or they’ll slowplay and just check behind. Not many players bet a small amount and then call a raise with a very strong hand, so full house combos like AA and JJ are fairly unlikely. Secondly, Villain doesn’t have many backdoor flushes besides a few combos of Ax of clubs, and these hands are more likely to just call our river bet anyway, (especially at low stakes) instead of looking to raise us off our straight.
If we somehow get raised after betting it sucks, because we can’t really fold if we bet $60 and our opponent shoves for around $100 more. However, if we think our opponent is mainly calling with aces in them then we really have no choice but to go for a bet here. Getting thin value in situations like this is what separates the big winners from the breakeven players as these spots will win you more money than almost any other situation in live poker.
As played, Hero faces a small river bet from Villain and just calls. Villain is probably value betting AK or better here, which does contain a bunch of hands that we beat, but some of them may fold to a raise and we might only get called by better a significant amount of the time. Calling is probably the right decision once Villain bets. Hero does call and gets shown Villain’s 8 ♥ 7 ♥ for trip eights.
Villain ended up having a hand that would have certainly called a large river bet from us but was content to bet a smaller amount given the opportunity. Even more disastrous for us is the fact that some players wouldn’t have even bet small on this river with trip eights, they would have been content to just check it back. You have to be able to pull the trigger in situations like this where your opponent can and will call you with worse, especially at low stakes where it's much less likely that players will raise your river bets with a non-nut holding or a bluff. In the long run knowing when to bet thinly for value on the river will increase your winrate by a lot of money as it’s one of the most important plays to study and work on implementing into your own game.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to listen to Bart’s in depth analysis of the full hand you can check out the call on the Crush Live Poker YouTube Channel by clicking on the link here
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