Whether you are trying to extract value or run an opponent off a hand, betting on the river is not just a matter of reading your opponent's betting pattern but also your own.
You'll be losing chips if you don't realize when your opponent is giving you credit for a bigger hand than you actually hold and would fold to a bet. In this hand from the World Poker Tour's $15,000-buy-in Doyle Brunson World Poker Classic at Las Vegas' Bellagio in 2008, with blinds at $50-$100, noted cash-game and tournament pro David Oppenheim limped from early position with A-3 suited.
Solid pro John Myung also limped, as did the player in Seat 8. The big blind checked his option, so four players took a flop of A-4-Q, two diamonds, giving Oppenheim top pair and the nut-flush draw. Oppenheim checked behind the big blind.
"I wanted to see what would happen," Oppenheim said. "Sometimes I bet there. I try to mix it up. John Myung, who's a good, tight player, made a bet of $300. The guy next to him in Seat 8 made it $600, which is so weird. People usually don't raise just one unit. Now I had a choice.
"I could've called, but I feel like when I call a double raise in that pot when I have nothing invested, I've really kind of defined my hand as a flush draw. I also didn't feel like the guy who raised was that strong. I knew he could have me beat, but I felt I could get him off the hand on the turn."
Oppenheim re-raised to $1,600, Myung folded. Seat 8 called. The big blind folded.
The turn came the 7 of spades.
"I felt there's a good chance he had me beat, so I was going to try to take it," said Oppenheim, a pro from the Full Tilt Poker online site. "I bet $4,000 to try to get him off a better hand, and he made it $12,000. I thought about it and thought about it. I figured at this point, he's got a really good hand. I thought he might have A-Q or a set. I knew I was behind, but I figured if I hit my card, I'm going to bomb him on the river. He seemed like a guy who wasn't able to lay down a hand. So it was worth it for me to call the $8,000 with the nut-flush draw."
The river came the 4 of clubs, pairing the board.
Oppenheim checked. Surprisingly, Seat 8 checked and showed down A-J suited for a split pot.
"I felt lucky," Oppenheim said. "He could've won the pot very easily from me with a $4,000 [or] $5,000 bet. The way the hand was played, it looked like he had to have aces and queens or a set."
Check his option: When the big blind passes on the opportunity to raise preflop and plays for the amount he already posted before the cards were dealt.