When to Raise the River (Most Poker Pros Agree)

When to Raise the River

Something that confuses a lot of newer poker players in particular is when to raise the river. This is especially the case in small stakes games, which the majority of people play.

Should you only raise the river with the nuts? How about with bluffs? How about with middle strength hands like trips weak kicker, top pair and so on?

These are a few of the questions I am going to answer in this article. 

Here is your complete guide to when to raise the river in small stakes poker games in particular. The vast majority of poker pros agree with this strategy!


You Should Raise the River for Value the Vast Majority of the Time


Let me say right off the bat that in my opinion you should only be raising the river for value the large majority of the time.

And what I mean by that is raising the river with big value hands such as:
  • Two pair
  • Trips good kicker
  • Set
  • Straight
  • Flush
Now it will depend on the board texture and your opponent in the hand. But primarily at the lower stakes you want to only raise the river when it is clearly for value.

Therefore, you should typically not be raising the river as a bluff or with middle strength hands like top pair, middle pair and so on.


Why Should You Avoid Raising the River as a Bluff?


So, why should you avoid raising the river as a bluff or with middle strength hands in small stakes games? 

Well, the reason why you want to avoid this is because they will simply call you down if you have a bluff. 

And because with middle strength hands like top pair or trips weak kicker, there is often no reason to raise (they will simply call you with better hands and fold all their bluffs!).

Check out the example hand below to see a clear illustration of this.

As I discuss at length in Crushing the Microstakes, poker players at these limits tend to call too much. So the worst thing you can do versus a bunch of calling stations is try to bluff them or go for super thin value.

The other thing is that you don't have to "balance your range" at the micros like you will need to do against higher level opponents in higher stakes games.

And what I mean by that is that most players in small stakes games aren't paying attention to what hands you raise the river with and which hands you just call with.

The other thing about the small stakes, especially if you play online, is that the player pool is often so large, that it is difficult to pay attention to individual players.

The player pool in higher stakes games by contrast is often much smaller and so you will often play against the same people day in and day out.

Higher stakes players are also much more likely to be using a program like PokerTracker to study your tendencies and make notes on you away from the tables.


Example Raising the River Hand Gone Bad!


Let's look at a hand that I just reviewed yesterday on my poker YouTube channel.

In this hand we are dealt A8 in the cutoff in a 6max 1c/2c cash game online. After a preflop mini-raise from semi-loose opponent, we decide to 3-bet.


Now, in general I am not a huge fan of 3-betting preflop here. I would much rather just call the small preflop raise and see a flop with a really nice speculative hand in position.

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I would much rather polarize my 3-betting range at the micros in a spot like this by only doing it with premium hands and occasionally as a bluff with a speculative hand.

But versus weaker recreational players, I see absolutely no need to balance anything and so I will almost never bluff them (I will just always call them with speculative hands like A8).

And then of course I will 3-bet them every time with my big premium hands like AA, KK, AK and so on.

Anyways, let's move on to an analysis of the flop in this hand. When the flop comes very favourable for us:

QJA

I definitely like raising up the small fish bet that our opponent makes here. However, I prefer making our raise pot size in a situation like this to around 30 cents.

The reason why is because this forces them to pay the price if they are on some nonsense draw or have some weak bottom or middle pair type hand.

Anyways, the recreational player calls and we go to a turn. 


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Knowing When to Pot Control on the Turn


Continuing on, the turn in this hand comes with is a total brick:

3

When the recreational player bets out 30% of the pot this time, I definitely prefer just calling in this spot now. We don't want to be raising in a situation like this.

This is a perfect situation to pot control instead.

And the reason why is because all we actually have at this point is top pair with a mediocre kicker. This is not the kind of hand that we want to be playing for stacks with!

This is instead the perfect spot to just call in position, try to improve to either the nut flush on the river or perhaps two pair or trips.


Flat Calling the River Instead of Raising


When the river comes with the:

A

We actually do improve to trips.

However, this is a deceptive situation because we must remember that there are many hands that still beat us on this board such as:
  • Any better trips
  • Straight
  • Full house
And so on.

So when the recreational player decides to bet half pot on the river, I really like just calling in this spot instead of raising.

Because I think by raising the river in this situation we only get two outcomes:

1. We get called by better hands
2. We fold out nearly all worse hands

In other words, raising the river here is a lose/lose situation for us. There is very little good to be gained for us at all.

This is an extremely important point that you need to understand in small stakes games in particular. Always ask yourself what is to be gained when you raise or bet in any situation (not just the river).

Is it clearly definable as being for value or as a bluff?

If you can't resoundingly answer yes to either of these questions, then the best play is often to just check or call instead of betting or raising.

And as you can see by the results of this hand, the best decision to make on the river was indeed to just call instead of raising.


Final Thoughts


So, when should you raise the river especially if you play low stakes online poker games in particular?

Well, I would suggest only doing it when you have an extremely strong "nut" hand or occasionally as a complete bluff.

I would steer clear of raising the river with a good but not great hand like we saw in the example hand in this post.

In other words:

Polarize your river raising strategy:

1. Big value
2. Big bluff (although you should rarely do this in small stakes games)

And that is because by raising with middle strength hands it creates all sorts of problems where we don't know how often we are getting called by worse hands or we are simply building the pot for a better hand.

Don't make things so difficult for yourself in small stakes games. This is why so many people lose. They over-complicate things and try to get way too tricky against low level opponents.

It is instead a far better idea to always keep things as simple as possible in small stakes games and make your decisions very black or white: 

Make big bets/raises when it is definitely for value or definitely as a bluff.

Avoid everything in between!

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When to Raise the River