Choosing the correct river bet size

Despite spending a decent amount of time studying, getting in shape, and finding my way into a tranquil mindset, the 2015 $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event did not go well for me. I felt like I played my best but the cards simply did not cooperate at all. However, I did get off to a nice start. Today I will share with you a hand that may seem straightforward, but in reality, it is a tricky spot that I think I played in the most profitable manner.  

Everyone folded to me in the cutoff seat with blinds at 50/100. I had 28,000 chips. Everyone else had 30,000 or more. I looked down at the beautiful Ah-Ac and raised to 275.

I tend to raise to around 3 big blinds when very deep stacked because, with this stack size, the goal is to build and win a meaningful pot. If you min-raise to 200, you make it difficult to win a large pot. Min-raising is a powerful strategy when you are shallow stacked because it decreases the amount of chips you can lose on any individual hand, but when you are deep stacked, your goal should be to maximize value, not minimize risk. If you play well, the risk of going broke with a 300 big blind stack is nearly non-existent.

A tight, aggressive guy 3-bet to 750 from the button. To everyone’s surprise, a tight, passive 55 year old player decided to 4-bet to 2,150 from the big blind.

I was quite confident that he had a narrow range of perhaps A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K.

Knowing this, I decided to 5-bet to 5,500, fully expecting the initial 3-bettor to fold and the tight passive Big Blind to call, which is exactly what happened.

When the Big Blind failed to 6-bet, I assumed he did not have A-A, which I already assumed, given I had two of the aces.

The flop came Ad-Jc-5c, giving me top set. The Big Blind checked. I decided to check behind.

At this point, I thought I would be able to play a substantial pot if my opponent happened to have A-K or J-J, and if he had K-K or Q-Q, he would likely not put much more money in the pot unless he improved to a set. Checking gives my opponent the opportunity to get unlucky to improve. It is important to realize that I do not need to be too concerned about the various draws on the board because, combined with the fact that I have the ace of clubs in my hand, my opponent simply cannot have any of them, given the preflop range I assigned him.

The turn was the (Ad-Jc-5c)-4s. My opponent bet 5,600 into the 11,800 pot and I called.

I think calling is vastly superior to raising because if my opponent has A-K or J-J, he will certainly put more money in on the river, either by betting or check-calling, and if he has K-K or Q-Q, I do not want him to fold because he is drawing dead. Calling is the only play that has any merit unless I thought my opponent would turn his K-K or Q-Q into a bluff if I raised small, which I certainly did not think was the case given my opponent’s tendencies.

The river was the (Ad-Jc-5c-4s)-8d. My opponent checked.

I assumed that he would continue betting with J-J, so I narrowed his range to exactly A-K, K-K, and Q-Q. I assumed that he would call a sizable, but less than all-in, bet with A-K. I was unsure how much he would call with K-K or Q-Q, although I assumed it was not much. Notice there are four combinations of A-K (As-Ks, As-Kc, As-Kd, and As-Kh) and 12 combinations of K-K and Q-Q. This means that he will have A-K 25% of the time and K-K or Q-Q 75% of the time. I made the assumption that he would call an 11,000 bet with A-K and a 3,000 bet with K-K or Q-Q. To figure out which bet will show a larger profit, you multiply the size of the bet by the percentage of time it will be called.

I thought he would call 11,000 25% of the time (when he has A-K, or the sporadic J-J which I ignored), which gives me 11,000 X .25 = 2,750 profit.

I thought he would call 3,000 90% of the time (sometimes he hero-folds), which gives me 3,000 X .9 = 2,700.

While you may think a bet somewhere between 3,000 and 11,000 will show a larger profit, you will find that once you go above a certain bet size (in this case, I assumed it was 3,000), the percentage of the time your opponent will call immediately drops off, making those bets subpar. It is worth noting that both of these bets are very close in equity, so my actual bet sizing choice isn’t too relevant. You must understand the process of choosing the proper bet size so you can pick the optimal sizing in situations that are not as close.

All of this led me to bet 11,000 into the 23,000 pot. My opponent instantly folded Qc-Qd face-up, saying he found out where he was with his turn bet.

This makes me think he would fold on the river to almost any bet, which makes my 11,000 bet almost certainly ideal. When analyzing situations like this, it is important to not be result-oriented. Of course, if I knew my opponent had exactly Q-Q, I would have made a tiny bet, but that isn’t how poker works in the real world. It is mandatory that you get in the habit of thinking in terms of ranges. It will allow you to logically extract the maximum amount of equity in spots where most players leave a bit of money on the table.

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Be sure to check back next week for another educational blog post. Thanks for reading!

12 thoughts on “Choosing the correct river bet size”

  1. I don’t like the very common idea that an opponent will call an x-sized bet y% of the time. We are talking about an opponent who will have exactly his hand range on exactly that board. Why would anyone call with one exact hand on exactly one board any % of the time, other than 0% or 100%? If all other circumstances remain the same, call or fold should also remain the same. I’d say instead you are 90% SURE and 25% SURE he’d call each bet size.

    1. The opponent will call a small bet with X% of his range (say 70% of the time) or a large bet X% of the time (say 40% of the time). The opponent should definitely call tighter as the bet size increases. Clearly, you can build in weights if you feel inclined if you assume your assumptions may be incorrect.

  2. Do you think there is any requirement to have one or two bluffs in your 5-betting range here?

  3. Another very helpful post. My game has improved immeasurably as a result of watching your videos and reading your posts and books. I’m about half through Mastering Small Stakes No Limit Holdem, it’s great. I learned tons from Bluffs, read that 3 times and I just ordered the Excelling book.

    Your clear explanations of complex concepts, strategies and tactics has expanded my understanding of nlhe in ways that pay dividends every time I play. Really opened my eyes. My book shelf is lined with at least 2 dozen poker books books from other authors, many really good, but I can say confidently none have helped me nearly as much as what I’ve learned from you.

    Thank you very much Jonathan.



  4. Great material – been listening to and loving your podcast. Your poker style is very similar to life, you can play great and not everything might work out, but that doesn’t mean it was played incorrectly.

  5. What do you think of calling the 4-bet vs making a 5-bet? I think the button would come along with a call too (or maybe even 5-bet themselves).

    1. Sure, especially if you think the opponent has lots of bluffs in his range. If his range is all “nuts” and he will never fold, you might as well get as much money in preflop as you can in case the board comes bad for him and he folds.

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