Most of the time, I like to focus on pot limit Omaha, but I do play some limit. In many poker rooms, Omaha isn’t spread, so I’ll take a seat at a limit Texas holdem table from time to time.
The reason I prefer limit in Texas holdem is because it limits the volatility, which works well with the way I play poker. I play all kinds of casino poker games as mathematically correct as possible. This is why I prefer Omaha, but Texas holdem is mathematical also.
The reason why Omaha is a better option than Texas holdem for mathematically inclined players is because you have more information at every point in a hand playing Omaha. You start with four cards instead of two, so you know the value of twice as many cards to start.
On the flop, you know the value of seven cards instead of five; on the turn, you know the value of eight cards instead of six and, on the river, you know the value of nine cards instead of seven.
When you know the value of more cards, you can make better predictions. It helps you determine pot odds and expected value better. All of these things also help you understand why you should call on the river against a single bet in limit poker.
The Math of Limit Poker
In the next section, I’ve included two examples. The two examples show the mathematical reasons to call on the river in limit poker. In this section, you’re going to learn some more about the math used in the examples.
If you want to be a profitable poker player, you need to learn about expectations and odds because you use them on every hand.
With positive expectation, you’ll make more than you lose in the long run. With negative expectation, you’ll lose more than you make in the long run.
Sometimes, it’s easy to understand if a situation is positive or negative. Moving all in with pocket aces before the flop is a positive expectation situation. Doing the same thing with two sevens is a negative situation.
The decision to call on the river of a limit poker game boils down to this. The reason why you should almost always call on the river in a limit poker game is because it’s a positive expectation play. The examples in the next section show you exactly why.
Calling River Bets Examples
You’re playing in a 10/20 limit Texas holdem game. You enter the pot with the ace of clubs and queen of clubs. The flop has two clubs, one of which is a king. Before the flop, there’s a raise, and you and one other player call. The pot has $70 in it after the rake. The pre-flop bettor bets on the flop, the other player folds and you call, making the pot $90.
The turn is a blank, your opponent bets, and you call. The pot now has $130 in it. The river is a queen, giving you second pair, but you miss your flush draw. Your opponent bets, making the pot $150. You have to call $20 for the chance to win the $150.
While your opponent might have a better hand than you, with a second pair, it’s an easy call. You only have to win the pot one out of eight times to make this a positive expectation, and with a second pair, this is a profitable call.
If you don’t hit the queen on the river, the decision is more difficult. But even with just an ace high on your busted draw, I recommend calling most of the time.
You’ll play against a few opponents that will never play a losing hand the way your opponent played this one, but these types of opponents are rare.
Even if you only win one out of 10 times in this situation, which makes it a negative expectation, you can still profit from calling. Some of your opponents will be paying attention and see that it’s hard to bluff you out of a pot on the river.
If you’re aware of this, use it to your advantage. It can keep a few of them from trying to bluff you on the river in the future, which lets you see the showdown and save the river call.
The only time you should fold the river bet in this situation is when you’re 100% sure you’re beat. Anything less than 100% requires a call.
For the second example, you’re playing the same hand as above, but you enter with a pair of nines. The flop has three cards below a nine, so you call the flop. The turn is a blank and you call to see the river. The river has a card higher than nine, and your opponent bets.
This is an easy call for the same reasons I listed in the last example. You’re going to win this hand at least one out of eight times, and the truth is that you’re probably going to win close to half the time. The time to fold in this hand, if you’re going to fold, is on the flop. But it’s difficult to get away with an over pair.
If an ace lands on the turn, you can consider folding, because it’s the most dangerous card. But I rarely fold in this situation. You could still have the best hand and, even if you don’t, there are still two nines in the deck that give you a set on the river. If you’re still in the hand on the river, you have to call a single bet even if an ace lands on the river.
I’ve won hands like this with a naked ace or worse.
Over the years, I’ve folded to a single bet on the river a few times based on what I knew about my opponent. You might think these situations involved a highly skilled opponent. But this isn’t the case. The best players are always capable of bluffing on the river because they understand that the added possibility of their opponent folding makes a bet correct most of the time.
The few times I’ve folded on a single bet on the river have been against poor or beginner players who have a distinct playing style. Some players don’t know enough to bluff and when they get a big hand, like pocket aces or kings, they simply keep betting until the end no matter what. They often don’t play any lesser hand this way like a good player does sometimes.
No Limit and Pot Limit Poker
Now that you understand why calling in limit poker on the river is almost always the best play, what about in pot limit or no limit games?
The answer to this is more complicated than in limit play. But the good news is, you use the exact same reasoning when you’re trying to figure out the expected value of a call.
In limit play, it’s easy because the size of the bet is limited to a smaller amount. In no limit and pot limit play, you often face a higher bet on the river. You need to determine your chances of winning the hand with a call and compare the amount you have to put in the pot with the amount you can win.
If the pot has $250 in it and your opponent bets $250, you have to risk $250 to win $500. This means that you need to win the pot at least 33% of the time when you call. In a limit game, you only have to win one out of seven to 10 times, depending on the size of the pot.
This is the reason why you should fold more often on the river in pot limit and no limit play. Sometimes a call is profitable, but not as often as it’s profitable in limit play.
No matter what, always be sure to practice proper casino bankroll management.
Until you learn how to use expected value correctly, your best bet is to call a single bet on the river in limit poker games. If you find that you’re losing more than you should on the river, you need to tighten up your game on the earlier rounds. The best poker players learn when they should avoid losing too much on the river by not entering the hand in the first place or folding on the flop or turn.