Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Tough River Situation

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to beautiful Prague for the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour events. In a particular hand from a €1,000 event, I found myself totally lost on the river. This hand took place near the end of the first day. My opponent is a tight, aggressive kid who has not messed around at all so far. He is on the button when I am in the big blind. It folded to him on the button five times throughout the day. Three times he folded, once he raised and folded to the small blind’s reraise, and once I called his preflop raise and check-folded to a continuation bet. What this amounts to is, I do not think he is going to do anything too crazy. I think he is only raising from the button with relatively strong hands because both myself and the small blind are prone to defend our blinds aggressively. That being said, he is a young European kid, so I am sure he has at least some gamble in him. It is also worth noting that I have been generally active throughout the day, fighting hard for a lot of pots with aggressive postflop action.
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Everyone folded to the tight, aggressive (TAG) kid on the button, who raised to 1,250 out of his 50,000 stack at 300/600-75. I decided to call 625 more with QSpade Suit JClub Suit from the big blind. I also could have reraised, but I did not think he would fold to my reraise too often due to his likely strong preflop range and I am not a big fan of playing hands that are easily dominated from out of position, especially when I am not reasonably sure how I expect my opponent to react.

The flop came QHeart Suit QClub Suit 10Diamond Suit.

I checked and my opponent made a standard continuation bet of 1,500 into the 3,975 pot. I decided to check-raise to 3,900. I thought he would certainly call with any queen, A-A, K-K, J-J, most 10s, K-J, J-9, and perhaps A-K, A-J, and pairs worse than a ten. I don’t like check-calling because, while it does keep my opponent’s range wide open, it makes it tough to play a large pot on the turn or river because I think his range to call a turn or river check-raise is much tighter than his range to call a flop check-raise.

He decided to call 2,400 more.

The turn was the 8Spade Suit.

I decided to bet 5,800 into the 11,775 pot. I thought he would almost certainly fold his small pairs, A-K, and A-J at this point. I thought he would still continue with any queen, A-A, K-K, J-J, 8-8, K-J, and J-9. Again, I don’t love checking, because it allows him to see a free card with his draws while also allowing him to value bet when he happens to have me beat. While it is somewhat likely that my hand is beat at the moment, I think it makes more sense to assume it is the best hand most of the time.

He called 5,800.

The river was the AHeart Suit.

This is a terrible river for me because now both A-A and K-J beat me. I will also not be able to get additional action from K-K. So, should I bet small for value, bet large for value, check with the intention of calling a river bet, or check with the intention of folding to a river bet?

If I bet small, perhaps 7,500 into the 23,375 pot, my opponent will certainly call with all hands that beat me. He will probably call with all worse queens. He will probably fold all pairs worse than an ace. If he somehow has A-K or A-J, which I do not think is too likely, he will probably call a river bet. This bet sizing is only good if I thought he would call the turn with A-K or A-J, which probably is not the case.

If I bet large, perhaps 18,000 into the 23,375 pot, I think he will call almost entirely when I am beat and fold when I am ahead. He may even find a big fold with a hand such as Q-9 or A-K. I think betting large would be a fairly large error without some sort of overly aggressive dynamic with my opponent, which I did not have.

If I check the river and my opponent makes any sort of reasonable bet, should I call or fold? Again, if he could have A-K or A-J in his range, I should probably call, assuming he would value bet those. If he would check behind with those, I should be much more inclined to check-fold. I also have to figure out if my opponent will turn hands such as K-K, J-J, J-10, or J-9 into a bluff on the river. If he will bluff with those hands, I should almost certainly check-call because that is likely the only way to extract value.

This is a difficult spot because my hand looks like either trips or a straight, which will never fold, or a 10 that will fold to any bet. This means that it would be fairly crazy for my opponent to try to bluff with a hand such as K-K or J-J because I do not think he can expect me to fold many better hands to a bet. This leads me to believe that if I check and he bets, I should assume it is for value with a hand that can beat a queen, allowing me to safely fold. I talked to a few of my friends and they also said, given his perceived range, this is a fairly standard spot to check-fold. While it is not too often that you find a spot to relatively easily check-fold with trips on the river, this is one of them.

Unfortunately, I made the error of betting 7,500 into the 23,375 pot. My opponent happily called with J-9 for a straight. ♠