How to Successfully Bluff on the River – Top Tips by Upswing Poker
Last Updated: December 1, 2023
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Bluffing is one of the core poker skills, and there are no good poker players who never bluff. Some might do it more often than others, depending on their playing style, but the ability to pull the trigger when needed is absolutely necessary.
There are many bluffing opportunities throughout any poker hand. The river, however, is usually the trickiest of all, and many players struggle to find good river bluffs.
With this being the final betting street, the pot is the biggest at this point, which means that your bluffs, if you want them to be successful, will also be more costly.
With all this in mind, it’s important not to allow these fears and concerns to stop you from taking advantage of good bluffing spots.
In this article, we’ll look into some of the most important aspects of bluffing on the river and how you can improve this particular segment of your game.
Getting Rid of the Mental Block
Perhaps the biggest reason why so many players have problems with river bluffs is that they’re final. There are no future cards to save you, and you don’t have any additional streets to catch a lucky out if you get caught with your hand in a cookie jar.
This, combined with the general fear of failing, makes pulling the trigger on the river much harder than on any other street.
But, if you want to thrive as a poker player, you need to get rid of these fears and doubts. Sure, if your bluff doesn’t get through, you’ll probably feel bad for a little while.
Once that feeling goes away (and it will go away), you’ll probably be happy that you went for it in a spot where you felt it was the right thing to do.
Things to Consider When Bluffing on the River
With these general ideas out of the way, let’s look at the few technical things that you should think about when considering a river bluff.
The first such concept is the Minimum Defense Frequency (MDF). This is a fairly simple math equation that tells you how often your bluff needs to work for it to make sense.
MDF = Risk (Risk / Reward)
First of all, you need to figure out how often you expect your opponent to fold when you bet the river for a particular sizing.
For example, let’s say there are 80 big blinds in the pot, and you decide to go for a half-pot bet on the river, expecting your opponent to fold about 40% of the time.
Using the formula we get 40bb / (80bb + 40bb) = 0,33%. When you multiply this by 100, you get 33%, which is lower than the 40% you expect to get folds, making this a profitable bluff.
Another important technical aspect of bluffing on the river has to do with blockers.
Figuring out the profitability of the bluff is just one part of the equation. Not all hands are equally good bluffing candidates. You want to avoid bluffing with hands containing cards that you’d ideally like your opponent to have.
This is, of course, very situation-dependent and something you can learn more about by playing with the solvers and checking different scenarios.
That said, you should also keep in mind that you’re not playing against computers.
While solvers take things to the extreme and will make adjustments based on the slightest differences, there is a lot to be said about introducing exploitative strategies based on your reads and what you know about your opponents’ tendencies.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic and pick up some more useful tips for your games, definitely check out the Upswing Poker Lab.