Value Betting on the River Article

Once you take a good hand to the river and a calling station tags along, you'd think that firing out a value bet would be the simplest and most straightforward thing to do. Apparently however, many players fail to follow through on this simple and self explanatory course of action. They just check in the wake of their opponent's check, as if they were saying the pot was large enough and they were well content pocketing whatever there was on the table.

Now I don't have to tell you why not value betting on the river is a huge mistake, but the fact that so many people keep committing this mistake forces me to take a deeper look at the issue – out of healthy curiosity of course.

Human psychology is loaded with peculiarities, and the way Mother Nature "programmed" us, always makes sense from its perspective. The same psychological reaction that makes perfect sense from an evolutionary angle though may trigger something completely idiotic at the poker table. In this instance this seems to be the case too.

I don't remember if I ever missed a value bet in such an instance (though I most probably did) but I know for certain that sometimes I do make calls in situations in which I know exactly what my opponent holds and I know that he has me beat too. Until I found out this gesture could be explained through the existence of an "irony" factor in psychology, I wrote it off to simply not being focused enough. Apparently, though, there's a logical, scientific explanation to why we fail to fire out that bet on the river, and it has nothing to do with leaving some chips for the other guy to survive.

Apparently, risk aversion is something Mother Nature (or evolution, call it what you like) has coded deep into our psychology. Avoiding risk is something that comes natural to humans, therefore our first reaction in the above described situation is that we aim to involve as small a percentage of our bankroll as possible, in order to protect our money. Knowing that the pot is 90% ours, we try to protect our stack from those remaining 10% odds that say our opponent has managed to outdraw us.

This is a huge, costly mistake, which in the long-run may end up wrecking an otherwise good player's efforts, and turn him from a small winner into a break even player or loser.

Another example of such behavior (which the above theory explains too) is linked to rakeback. Rakeback carries a huge potential for active players: it gives them money back on the poker rake they generate, thus offering them gains on a completely unexpected front. Many players have simply never heard about rakeback, but many who have, still fail to sign up for a deal. They know how rakeback is supposed to work but they're just reluctant to actually engage in the sign-up process, not really knowing how all this will work out in their favor (rakeback earnings are difficult to estimate, let alone accurately determine). In this case, the uncertainty factor is not even real: it's merely a perceived one, yet it's still enough to cause players to give up an obvious edge.

Simple things like missing this plain opportunity on the river made me realize something: poker is not only an infinitely complex game, it is one which aims to stretch our psychological limits constantly, hand after hand, blind after blind, pot after pot. Your greatest opponent at the poker table are therefore you. Learn to control your primal instincts and learn to surpass your own limits and you shall be successful. That's "all" that's required of you.

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