What’s Your Play? Ace on the River

Thanks for all the comments on What’s Your Play? Ace on the River, and sorry that it’s taken so long to post the results.

Bet or Check?

An Ace on the river will generally be a better card for the aggressor in a heads up pot. Generally he’ll raise any Ace good enough for the defending player to call, and whereas the defending player would ordinarily re-raise his strongest Aces, the aggressor will still have all of these in this range for seeing the flop.

The flop action complicates matters a bit because it’s possible that Hero could call a continuation bet with Ace-high, and also that Villain could choose not to bet Ace-high and play it as a bluff-catcher/showdown hand. This sort of Villain usually prefers winning pots immediately with vulnerable hands, though, and also because he’s a tighter opener I wouldn’t be inclined to defend with a lot of Ax pre- or post-flop.

So I think an Ace is a better card for Villain than for Hero, and this is a strong argument for checking with my entire range. Villain ought to bet quite often with both bluffs and value bets, so with my strongest hands I can aim to check-raise, and even some of the more marginal hands I could consider value betting can play at least nearly as well as bluff-catchers and maybe even induce “value bets” from weaker Aces.

There are a lot more playable combos of Ax then there are of two spades, especially when the As is on the board, so the fact that the river is an Ace is more significant than that it is a spade. I’m not entirely sure which of us is more likely to have spades, but I’m tempted to say Villain. I think he probably raises more spades than I call with pre-flop, and while he probably has all those combos in this range after betting flop (the turn check is trickier, but this doesn’t seem like a player who does a lot of barreling), I’m likely to check-raise spades sometimes so just calling makes my range less spade-heavy. This, too, would be a reason to check my full range on this river.

Exploitively, with exactly 77, I don’t see any reason to bet. It’s far too weak of a hand to value bet on this river, it’s too good for Villain’s range to bluff. A player who thinks I’m a little too bluffy isn’t going to fold a rivered pair of Aces to a single bet, and he’s probably not going to make a heroic fold with a T or KK (assuming he checked such a hand) to a small bet, which is the only bluff that could have a shot at showing profit assuming he never folds an A.

Results

The great thing about players like this is that they’ll often give away information with their bet size. This, by the way, is another reason to check. My plan was to fold to a large, confident bet and raise a smaller one. Although Raphael is right that this is ”┬áthe ultimate scare card in the deck”, it’s scary precisely because there are so many hands Villain can value bet. I don’t think the odds are good enough to bluff-catch a large bet, and against a small bet I think that check-raise bluffing is a higher value play than a call.

I checked, Villain bet $75, I raised to $475, and he folded.

Though I certainly can’t say so with 100% certainty, I think that a bet of less than half the pot probably caps out his range. A big check-raise turns 100% of his betting range into bluff catchers, and despite what I said about my image, a player like this is simply going to fold too much to a big raise. There’s a lot for him to be afraid of, and he’s simply not used to seeing big river check-raise bluffs.

The big size is important because of what I said about my image. When suspicious, a player like this will call if you make it cheap and easy (this is why I don’t like just betting the river). You have to hit him over the head with the idea that you have a big hand. Because he probably doesn’t have anything better than an Ace himself, you don’t really have to worry about running into a big hand. The only danger is getting hero called, and that’s a danger that actually goes down as your bet size goes up. The only reason not to just ship it is the risk that he got tricky with the bet sizing and actually has Aces full or something.

There are two big takeaways here:

1. You should usually a check a card that is better for your opponent’s range than for yours.

2. Even when your image is bad, you can make a lot of money bluffing people off of one-pair hands. You just have to be pretty sure that’s all they have, tell a credible story, and make it expensive enough to counteract the fact that they really want to call you down.

6 thoughts on “What’s Your Play? Ace on the River

  1. Can you expand some on the assertion that
    “against a small bet I think that check-raise bluffing is a higher value play than a call.”?

    I’m having a hard time seeing Villain folding enough better hands as compared to calling or raising with them given the size of your bet.

    If you just call the pot will be $325. You are putting in another $400 in the hope of getting him to fold hands that beat you. I assume that you are folding if re-raised.

    • Sorry, I missed this question earlier. My assertion is that he’ll rarely have better than one pair with this action and river bet size, and he’ll rarely call with one pair.

  2. “Villain could choose not to bet Ace-high and play it as a bluff-catcher/showdown hand. This sort of Villain usually prefers winning pots immediately with vulnerable hands, though,!”

    Can u elaborate more on this? Seems a bit contradic to me

    • Suppose that betting A-high will be +EV, but checking and doing a lot of bluff-catching will be more +EV. I think this sort of player will nevertheless prefer winning immediately because the prospect of calling multiple big bets without a pair is scary to him. Somewhat contradictorily, this is more true if he views me as very bluffy. In other words, he might check back A-high just trying to show it down, but not with the intention of calling a lot of bets.

      Moreover, I think that he may start by considering whether he will make money by betting the flop with A-high, and if he decides he will, he may not even consider the possibility of checking. This again has to do with discomfort of playing A-high for value on later streets.

      Does that address what you found contradictory?

  3. If he was being tricky with aces full or some other monster, how do you justify raising to 475? I understand that he folds most non nut hands to a check raise but how do you settle upon 475 specifically, given that it needs to work roughly 67% of the time? Why not 300, which is still a4x raise but only has to work a little more than 50% of the time?

    • I think he’s a lot more likely to hero-call a smaller raise than to show up with Aces full. When the guy is already suspicious, the biggest mistake you can make is giving him a bluff that he’s comfortable calling. I’d rather err on the side of too much rather than too little in this situation.

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