The Ultimate River Poker Strategy Cheat Sheet (2024)

The Ultimate Poker River Strategy Cheat Sheet

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

Playing the river is something a lot of players struggle with, and it’s no wonder. There’s so many factors to consider that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially in big pots where your entire stack is on the line.

The river is the biggest money street in no-limit Texas hold’em, so making mistakes here can be disastrous to your winrate, and your bottom line. 

This article will show you everything you need to know about playing the river like a pro in no time.

One caveat: The situations on the river are so vastly different from one another that there’s no one right way to play it. So a step-by-step guide can’t really be applied here. 

Instead, this article will show you the decision making process to adopt so you can make informed decisions on the river yourself, regardless of the situation you find yourself in. 

There will also be example hands throughout the article to illustrate some concepts.

With all that in mind, let’s get right into it.

1. Triple Barrel Bluff to Win More Than Your “Fair Share” on the River

Triple barreling means firing a continuation bet on the river, either as a value bet or as a bluff. 

A c-bet is simply a bet made by the previous street’s aggressor. So if you are the preflop aggressor, you can fire a c-bet on the flop, turn and river, respectively.

Triple barreling for value is relatively simple. You do it when your hand is comfortably ahead of your opponent’s calling range. 

Most players don’t have trouble with recognizing the spots where they should bet for value, because they intuitively know their hand strength is sufficient for such an action. 

Triple barrel bluffing is another story, so we’ll focus on what to do when you don’t have the best hand on the river.

At the lower stakes in particular, players usually underbluff on the river, meaning they usually have something to show for when they fire a big river bet.

To underbluff means to bluff less frequently than would be considered optimal. In other words, other players may exploit you by simply not giving you any action in spots where you’re underbluffing, and only give you action with the strong hands that have you beat.

So knowing when to fire that third shell on the river when you don’t have a strong hand is a great weapon in your arsenal, because most players simply don’t have the nerve to pull it off. 

Better yet, they also assume other players don’t bluff often on the river as well, so they will give your bets more credit. In other words, a well executed bluff on the river will look like a value bet. 

Triple barreling screams strength, because your actions are congruent throughout the hand, i.e. you’re telling a believable story with your bluff.

To learn when and when not to bluff, check out my other article about how often you should bluff in poker.

Before giving an example hand, here are the factors that work well with triple barrel bluffing:

Good Triple Barrel Bluff Factor #1: No Showdown Value 

Hands with showdown value are the ones that aren’ strong enough to value bet with (i.e. you can’t get called with weaker hands), but can often win at showdown. 

Remember, the point of bluffing is to get stronger hands than yours to fold. 

If you triple barrel and your opponent only folds hands that are weaker than yours, and calls you with hands that have you beat, what’s the point of betting in the first place? 

So if you have a hand with showdown value, you should consider other alternatives.

If you’re playing out of position, you may consider check-calling instead. Your opponent may try to bluff you themself, so you can use your hand as a bluff catcher.

If you’re playing in position and your opponent checks to you, you may check back for a cheap showdown. 

Again, there’s no point in betting if you’re only going to get called by stronger hands.

Good Triple Barrel Bluff Factor #2: Tight Opponents

This one’s a no-brainer. As a general rule in poker, you shouldn’t bluff players who don’t fold, and triple barrel bluffing is no different. 

In fact, you should be especially wary of making huge bluffs on the river, because the mistakes on the river will be the most costly. 

If your opponent is a recreational player who likes to call a lot, you shouldn’t bluff them, no matter how well thought out your bluff attempt is. 

Even if you’re 100% sure they don’t have a strong hand, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they have to fold because everything else is simply ridiculous. 

They won’t call you down because of logic. They’ll call you down out of boredom, out of spite, out of desperation, or just because. 

They may call you down because they love making huge hero calls. Hell, they may call you down because they’ve misread their hand.

Check out my other article on bad bluffs that are costing you money for more info.

Bottom line: don’t bluff the recreational players, especially on the river. Save your bluffs for players who are actually capable of folding.

This is discussed in more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.

Good Triple Barrel Bluff Factor #3: Dry, Uncoordinated Boards

This one’s also pretty straightforward. 

The wetter the board, the less likely your bluff is to pull through, because there’s more ways your opponent could have connected with the board, and therefore, more likely to have a hand they’re not willing to part with.

Conversely, on dry, uncoordinated boards, there’s less ways your opponent could have made a strong hand combination, so they’re more likely to fold to your bluff.

You should be on the lookout for potential straight and flush draws completing on the river. If the river card potentially completes a number of draws, you may think twice about bluffing the river. 

River Strategy Example Hand #1

Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt A5 in the big blind.

A tight and aggressive regular open-raises to 2.5x on the BU (button).

You 3-bet to 10x. Villain calls.

Pot: 21.5 BB

Flop K♣3♣2

You bet 11 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 43.5 BB

Turn: 7♠

You bet 22 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 87.5 BB

River: 6

You: ???

You should shove all-in.

This is a high-risk, high reward play, and you shouldn’t attempt it too often and/or against just any random player. 

But being able to pull off big bluffs like these can mark the difference between breaking even and crushing the game.

Preflop you have a standard light 3-bet against what looks like a stealing attempt from a tight and aggressive regular. You can immediately narrow down their range to something like pocket pairs, broadway hands like AT suited or KQ offsuit, maybe some suited connectors like T9 suited or 98 suited.

You miss the flop, but you still have a lot of hand equity. You have an inside straight draw, as well as a backdoor flush draw. You have the range advantage, and the board is also fairly dry, so a c-bet is a standard play here.

By the way, a player with a range advantage is the one that theoretically has more strong hands in their range, because they were the preflop aggressor. 

In this example, you have the range advantage, so you can credibly represent strong hands like Aces, Kings, Ace-King and so on.

The turn card is pretty inconsequential, as it doesn’t change the board texture too much, and it doesn’t improve villain’s range, except maybe pocket Sevens, but that’s only a tiny part of their range at this point.

On the river you have a huge decision to make. You probably can’t win the hand at showdown, so you can either give up the pot, or you can try to pull off a triple barrel bluff.

There’s nothing wrong with checking here, but against this particular opponent, you might try to get “out of line” with a bluff. 

To pull off a successful bluff, you need to figure out which hands are you trying to get to fold.

Let’s consider the villain’s range. At this point, you can probably put them on Kx hands like KQ, KJ, maybe KT, some pocket pairs like pocket Jacks, Tens or Nines, and some busted flush draws with the clubs.

All of these hands will have trouble calling down three streets of betting. 

Also, the villain has a capped range, meaning they can’t have strong hands like Aces, Kings or Ace-King. You also block those with your hand.

By the way, a blocker is the card in your hand that decreases the number of possible combinations in your opponent’s range. For example, if you have an Ace in your hand, it’s less likely your opponent has Ax hands themselves.

Now, you may argue that the villain could have slowplayed a big hand, and fair enough. But based on their player type, it’s safe to assume they’d fall on the more straightforward side of the spectrum.

Now, this type of bluff won’t work every time, and yes, from time to time, you’ll get snap called by a Kx type of hand, a set and so on. 

This may suck at the moment, but it does have a benefit: it helps with your table image. 

If your opponents perceive you as wild and erratic, they may give you action the next time you actually wake up with a monster hand.

If you are never caught bluffing, you aren’t bluffing often enough.

Check out Nathan's recent video for more bluffing tips.

2. Bluff Catch With Hands With Showdown Value on the River

You won’t always have the luxury of being the previous street’s aggressor on the river. In these instances, you may try to bluff catch with hands that have showdown value. 

As mentioned before, most players at the lower stakes don’t bluff very often on the river, so you need to have a specific read on your opponents that indicates that they may be bluffing. 

Here’s a couple of factors that can help you determine your opponent may be bluffing you on the river:

River Bluffing Tell #1: Loose and Aggressive Opponents

As a general rule, tight, nitty opponents don’t bluff too much (or even at all), especially on big money streets, i.e. the turn or river. So if you see a tight player blasting big bets on the river, you can be pretty sure they have something to show for it. 

Against more loose and aggressive opponents, on the other hand, you can expect more bluffs in their range when they get to the river. 

It’s worth noting that the wider their range on previous streets, the wider their range on the river as well. 

For example, a player that open-raises on the button will have a far wider range when they get to the river than the player that open raises under the gun. 

Also, the more aggressive their previous actions, the narrower their range becomes. 

For example, a player that check-raised the flop, bet the turn, then bet the river will usually have a stronger and narrower range that checked back the flop, checked back the turn, then bet the river.

River Bluffing Tell #2: Weird Action Sequences

By paying attention to your opponent’s betting patterns and action sequence before the river, you can reverse engineer your opponent’s hand and figure out if their story doesn’t add up. 

If you spot a weird betting pattern or some action that doesn’t make sense, it could indicate that your opponent may be bluffing.

For example, a player that donk bets the flop, checks the turn, then bets the river is more likely to be bluffing than a player who check-raises the flop, bets the turn, then bets the river.

By the way, a donk-bet is an out of position bet made when you are not the previous street’s aggressor.

For example, if you call an open-raise preflop from the small blind, then bet on the flop, you’ve made a donk-bet. 

Donk betting is usually a sign of a recreational player, and it should be avoided.

Check out my other article on bad poker strategies you should avoid for more info.

One caveat: some skilled poker players may intentionally take seemingly weird lines to confuse and/or induce a certain action from their opponents, but again, that’s usually not the case in low stakes poker games. 

If a player looks like a fish and acts like a fish, it’s probably a fish.

By the way, check out Nathan’s recent video on how to quickly spot a fish at your poker table.

River Bluffing Tell #3: Weird betting patterns

This one’s a bit tricky, because it depends on the type of player you are up against, as well as your ability to pick up on betting patterns beforehand. 

In other words, you can’t figure out this tell in a vacuum, i.e. you need to pay attention to your opponent’s betting patterns throughout the session.

Some players have blatantly obvious betting patterns if you know what to look for. More skilled players may mix up their betting patterns or use balanced sizing so they don’t reveal their hand strength.

You need to be on the lookout for the former category.

Some players will use a bigger bet sizing when they have a strong value hand, and a smaller bet sizing when they are bluffing. 

These are typically players who aren’t complete poker beginners, but aren’t experts by any means. 

This type of strategy CAN work against recreational players who don’t pay attention to betting patterns, but it doesn’t work against more observant players who can adjust accordingly.

Recreational players, on the other hand, may do the exact opposite. They may use a big sizing when bluffing, and a small size when they have a strong hand. 

They may even make a min-bet in order to induce a raise from their opponents.

Recreational players do this because they want to be deceptive, because they think poker is all about outwitting your opponents. 

The problem is, this “deception” is fairly obvious to spot if you know what to look for.

At the end of the day, though, each player is different, so the best way to spot betting patterns is to observe them directly, and make a mental note if you see something out of the ordinary. 

River Strategy Example Hand #2

Effective stack size: 100 BB

You are dealt K♣J♣ on the BU. You open-raise to 3x.

A loose and aggressive fish (aka a maniac) calls from the SB.

Pot: 7 BB

Flop: J♠82♠

Villain bets 7 BB. You call.

Pot: 21 BB

Turn: 4

Villain bets 1 BB. You raise to 14 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 49 BB

River: A♣

Villain bets 16 BB. 

You: ???

You should call.

Against a wild and erratic opponent like this, this is a clear bluff catching spot.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise and the villain calls. Their range is quite loose here, so there’s no point in trying to narrow it down, as they could have virtually any two random cards.

On the flop you face a full pot donk bet, which is a telltale sign of a recreational player. You flat call with your top pair, hoping to get them to keep barreling on future streets with all of their nonsense hands.

By the way, check out my other article on what to do versus a pot sized bet from a fish for more info on how to play this particular spot.

The turn puts an additional flush draw on the board, and the fish pulls off another classic fish move, the min-bet. 

This time you raise to charge them a premium on all their weird drawing hands, weak Jx hands, second pairs, pocket pairs and so on. The fish calls.

On the river, the fish fires yet another donk bet, but this time, you don’t have a top pair hand anymore. Some players may get hesitant about calling here, because they assume they are going to get rivered yet again by an idiot donkey. 

But let’s look at the hand as a whole. The villain took all kinds of weird lines throughout the hand, and now they’re repping an Ace.

It’s true that the villain will have a weird Ax hand from time to time, and that sucks. But Ax hands are only a small part of their range. They could also have a bunch of busted draws, weak Jx hands and other mediocre hands they simply don’t know what to do with. 

Their bet sizing on the river also makes little sense. Even if they do have an Ace some of the time, you’re still getting 4:1 pot odds on a call, meaning you only need 20% hand equity to break even on a call, and you have way more than that with your second pair.

For more info about everything you need to know about the pot odds, check out my ultimate poker odds cheat sheet.

If you want to know more about bluff catching and other advanced poker strategies, check out The Microstakes Playbook.

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3. Overbet on Action Cards for Max Value on the River

If you’re playing no-limit hold’em, you should take advantage of the NO LIMIT part of the equation to win as much money as possible, especially on the river. 

Instead of betting the standard range between a 1/2 pot and a full pot bet, why not charge more if your opponent is willing to pay you off?

This is where overbetting comes into play. 

An overbet is simply a bet that’s bigger than the current pot size. For example, if the pot size is $100, any bet bigger than $100 would be considered an overbet.

If you have a strong value hand, your goal is to obviously extract as much money from it as possible, provided your opponent is actually willing to pay you off. 

It’s usually better to build up the pot before you get to the river, so you can ship the rest of your stack more easily. 

Unfortunately, you won’t always be able to do that. While overbetting is not the most elegant way to extract max value out of your strong hands, it can pay off against players who don’t care about the pot odds they are getting. 

The bigger your bet, the worse price your opponent is getting on a call, meaning they’re less likely to call. For this reason, overbetting works best against recreational players who love to call a lot, and usually don’t care about the pot odds they are getting. 

They are more concerned with the absolute strength of their hand. If they have something they perceive as a strong hand (like a flush or a full house, for example), they’ll usually pay you off regardless of the price they are getting.

Conversely, if they don’t like their hand, reducing your bet size won’t compel them to call more frequently, because again, they don’t care about the pot odds, and the price they’re getting doesn’t affect how often they continue the hand (or call your river bet, in this case).

In other words, recreational players tend to be inelastic, and more skilled poker players tend to be elastic in regards to how often they continue the hand.

So when you’re playing against more skilled opponents, you may consider decreasing your bet size on the river to induce a call from them (provided you have a strong value hand, of course). 

If you make a small bet, you may even induce them to come over the top with a raise of their own, because they may think you’re bluffing. 

The downside to this strategy is that you may miss out on value if they simply call your bet instead, and they were actually willing to pay more.

River Strategy Example Hand #3

Effective stack size: 150 BB

You are dealt JJ♣ in the CO (cutoff).

You open-raise to 3x. A loose and passive recreational player calls in the BB.

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop: J♠T2♠

Villain checks. You bet 6.5 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 19.5 BB

Turn: 5

Villain checks. You bet 19.5 BB. Villain calls.

Pot: 58 BB

River: T♠

Villain checks. 

You: ???

You should shove all-in.

This is a great spot to bet exploitatively and go for max value. Let’s break down the action street by street.

Preflop you have a standard open raise with pocket Jacks. You get called by a recreational player in the big blind. Not much to be said here, except that the villain is calling you with quite a wide range here, and your pocket Jacks are comfortably ahead.

You flop a top set, and life is good. Villain checks, and you bet a full pot to take advantage of the villain's overcalling tendencies. 

The number of hands that are willing to give you action on this board are through the roof: straight draws, flush draws, medium pocket pairs, Tx hands and so on. Your hand is obviously way ahead of the villain’s calling range.

The turn card doesn’t change much, except the fact that it puts an additional flush draw on the board. 

Based on the villain’s player type, they very well may be chasing backdoor flush draws with diamonds, so they may have picked up on some hand equity. 

Your hand is still comfortably ahead, though. You bet a full pot again.

By the way, a backdoor flush draw means that the villain needs to improve both on the turn AND river to complete their flush. 

Chasing backdoor flush draws is ill-advised, as they only have around 4% chance of completing.

You improve to a full house on the river, and you have the effective nuts, i.e. the strongest possible combination. 

The only hand that theoretically has you beat is pocket Tens, but this is so highly unlikely it’s not even worth considering. 

Strong value hands like these don’t come around often in no-limit hold’em, so when they do, you need to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth with them, especially against inelastic opponents like in this example.

You can get paid off by a bunch of hands here: virtually all flushes (fish don’t fold flushes, not even when the board pairs), Tx hands, and even weird weaker full houses, like T5 suited, T2 suited and such (fish love playing suited junk).

Some players may be hesitant about firing an overbet here, as it may seem “too obvious” that they have the nuts. 

But again, you’re up against an inelastic opponent that more than likely cares only about their absolute hand strength, instead of their relative hand strength. 

If they have something they perceive as a strong hand (i.e. trips, flushes, full houses), they’ll pay you off regardless of the price.

If they don’t, decreasing your bet size won’t compel them to call you, because they fish don’t care about the pot odds they’re getting. 

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The Ultimate River Strategy Cheat Sheet - Summary

Knowing how to approach different river spots is a huge part of the advanced poker strategy you need to win in today’s competitive games.

Some of the most important factors to consider on the river are:

a) the type of opponent you’re up against

b) the previous action (i.e. the pot size, are you the aggressor or not, your level of commitment to the pot etc.)

c) your relative hand strength and the board runout.

When you take all of these into account, you can decide where your hand stands and what’s the best line to take.

Should you go for max value with a big overbet? If you want to thin value bet, which hands will pay you off? 

If you don’t have a strong value hand, do you have enough showdown value to bluff catch? Or should you just give up the pot altogether?

As you can see, playing the river is such a dynamic spot that there is no one right way to play it. 

The best you can do is to take as many factors into account to make the best decision possible.

If you’re still feeling stumped, remember one of the golden rules of poker: When in doubt, fold.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

The Ultimate Poker River Strategy Cheat Sheet