Tips to Win More at Poker by PokerAtlas Pro Benton Blakeman

Strategy & Advice by BentonBlakeman Posted

I've been putting in a lot of time at the tables recently and am really working hard on increasing my hourly rate. One of the biggest things that I feel most players don't do is get max value from their good but not great hands on the river.

Far too often while playing live poker, I see players checking back on the river with a hand that ranks to be the best hand a high percentage of the time because they feel "the pot is big enough." The purpose of this article will be to make sure that you will not fall prey to this leak.

A simple example of this would be if we raise from late position with K-Q and the big blind calls. The flop comes Ks-8d-3s. Our opponent checks, we bet, and they call. The turn is the 9d. Our opponent checks, we bet, and they call. The river is the 2c. Our opponent again checks, and we simply table our hand showing top pair, 2nd kicker. Our opponent mucks and we comment "well, he probably had a flush draw and wasn't calling anyway. Either way, the pot was big enough." THIS THINKING IS WRONG! We need to be betting this river for value nearly 100% of the time. Sure, our opponent could have a busted draw, but they are very likely to have K-T, K-J, or even any random suited King that they defended their big blind with. All of these hands will put us on the busted draw and pay us off. For the more advanced players, there will be times where checking back this river is OK. This would be mostly when your opponent is very tricky and fearless, and is capable of reading your hand for a one pair type hand and check raise bluff the river to represent slow played hands such as sets and turned 2 pair like K-9 or 9-8 or flopped or turned sets. Luckily, you will rarely, if ever, see this in the $1-$2 and $2-$5 NL games at the casino.

When deciding to make river value bets, you should always ask yourself, "If I bet here, what hands will call me that I beat? Also, what hands will call me that beat me?" Once you answer these questions, if the number of hands that you beat is greater than the number of hands that you lose to, go ahead and make that river bet. Your sizing will largely depend on what you feel is your opponents most likely hand, and how much he would be willing to call with that hand. I'd suggest 50-60% of the pot vs. average opponents, but often near 100% of the pot vs. opponents who are weak but are calling stations who can't fold top pair ever.

Learning to value bet the river thinly also serves a dual purpose. When opponents at the table see you bet thinly at the river, you will start to get more light river calls that you may not have gotten before. Of course, sometimes you will bet the river for value and be called by a better hand, which you may hear referred to as "taking yourself to value town." This is OK. If you never take yourself to value town by making a thin value bet then you are probably missing a ton of value by not betting thin over a large sample of hands. In the long run, when all of your thin bets are averaged together, you will show a large profit increase because of these bets. Another positive about showing down a thin value river bet is that later your big hands will be called down much lighter by hands as weak as top pair with bad kickers in hopes that you are over valuing a second pair type hand.

Getting this bet in is the difference between having good and great sessions. Over the course of a year, this extra bet can boost your hourly rate significantly. So don't be afraid. Go ahead and get that extra value. It's there for the taking!

Good luck at the tables. Hope to see you all at the PokerAtlas Meetup and tourney at the Aria on December 13th!


  1. Excellent advice Benton! Thanks for sharing. I couldn't agree more on all points. The best poker players in the world don't miss any opportunities to capture value when they have the best hand. But this is something that even recreational and non-pro players can benefit from knowing. All of the little bets and calls (both for getting extra value on winning hands and when drawing to unlikely-to-win hands) add up over weeks and months.

  2. knowing that players at this level do not tend to use value betting often should we usually give them credit for a bigger than one pair hand if they DO choose to make a bet? I realize the many factors that could be weighed....but just overall...if what you are stating is true...shouldn't our opponent be polarized to either a bluff or a big hand? Just trying to put my thoughts into what I should do with a one pair hand that I have been check calling to the river...know what I mean Vern? Thanks!

  3. @txevans That's a great question. And the answer is the standard answer in poker, "it depends." It depends on how wet or dry the board is, on your opponent, on whether they are capable of betting light, whether they are capable of bluffing, etc etc etc.
    I know that's not what you wanted to hear so let me at least give you an example of each.

    Villain raises in middle late position and we call from big blind with A9 of spades. The flop is A76 with two hearts and a diamond. We check call. The turn is the K of diamonds putting backdoor diamonds. We check call again. The river is a 5 of spades completing several straights but neither of the flushes. We check and our opponent bets. I may call here if he's a bluffy player as I don't expect most players to bet one pair hands here. So he's either bluffing or has a monster. Since two flush draws missed and he was the preflop raiser (meaning straights are unlikely), and we don't think he'd bet a hand like AQ/AJ/AT, that means his range is AA/KK/or AK and bluffs. Since there are many more combos of bluffs I'd likely all with A9 here.

    Conversely, if our opponent is very straight forward in the same hand, then I'm never calling a river bet from him, even if an offsuit 2 hits the river.