Getting River Value

I love poker vlogs. If you don’t know what a poker vlog is, pause reading here, go to YouTube, and type in “poker vlog.” We’ll see you in a few days.

Back? Pretty cool, huh?

I love sitting in the chair with the vlogger. I love listening to the table chatter, seeing the cards peel up, all of it. I particularly enjoy “playing along” with the hero. I’m thinking “Bet $110.” He says, “I bet $120,” and I’m all, “That’s right, great minds think alike.” Or he says, “I bet $65,” and now one of two things is true—he’s right or I’m right.

But the fun thing is usually they explain their rationale for what they’re doing. Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t (“Folding is boring”, “Please don’t ask me why I did that”, or “I would definitely take back that bet if I could”). But I always enjoy hearing another player’s thoughts about why they’re playing a hand the way they do.

Which brings me to a vlog I watched today. It’s by a guy named Kyle Fischl, who lives in Florida. Kyle seems like a cool dude, opening each of his videos with, “Hello world!” He plays a lot of $2/5 and $3/5 no-limit hold’em, and I usually learn a thing or two, or get a lesson reinforced, from Kyle’s videos. He also appreciates a good cup of hot chocolate, which speaks well of a man.

But Kyle and I had a technical spat today, even though he doesn’t know it. I mean, maybe he does now, but you take my point. He open-raises with AcKc, gets a couple of callers, and a flop of Kd-Qc-4d. There’s 90 in the pot. He bets 40 (I’d have gone more like 60 with two opponents and a drawy board, but whatever) and they both call. There’s 210 in the pot, the turn is the 5s, one player checks, and Kyle bets 135. I love this sizing. It extracts full value from weaker kings and destroys odds for flush draws. I mean, if the opponent has something like AdQd or JdTd he’s never folding anyway, but if Kyle is in front right now, he has by far the most equity (he’s 68:32 ahead of JdTd).

Only the late position player calls. With 480 in the pot, the river is an inconsequential 8c. Now Kyle says a terrible thing: “I think it’s pretty easy to go into a check-call mode.” “No, Kyle! Noooooooo!”

That’s what I said to my laptop. Kyle explains that if somebody has been slow-playing a big hand, they’ll raise if he bets and he feels he has to call some of the time. In my opinion, he doesn’t have to call some of the time; there’s no way his opponents are bluffing that spot enough to make calling a raise the right move. Kyle and I can grab a beer down the road and argue about that one. Then he says, “The busted diamond draws will just fold.” True enough. And he says maybe the missed diamond draws will bluff if he checks. True, but rarely. Again, not enough, in my opinion, to justify checking.

But it’s what Kyle didn’t say that bothers me: “Worse kings.” He even discusses getting value from worse kings on previous streets. Where is it written that you’re not allowed to get three streets of value from a weaker top pair?

This is where you get your real value throughout the hand—a worse king that just can’t fold top pair. And when you get to the river, he’s going to tell himself you missed the diamond draw, and call.

This situation is crucially important, because hands such as this come up all the time. We get to the river with one very good pair—top-pair-top-kicker (TPTK) or an overpair. The question is do we bet for value or check/call?

In my world, 90% of the time, we bet for value. The mathematical question is whether our opponent is more likely to call with a worse value hand, or attempt a bluff if we check. Across the great majority of the poker world, they are much more likely to call with worse than attempt a bluff.

So bet half the pot, Kyle; 250 into 480 would be a great sizing. The diamond draws will fold, the slow-played KQ will raise (and you’ll fold). But all those KJ, KT, and K9 hands will agonize, mutter “pot odds,” and call, shipping you an extra half-stack of green chips.

Half-stacks of green chips add up.

A big shout-out to Kyle Fischl (“Hello Kyle!”) for great poker content and an awesome hand to discuss.

Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at