In my previous article, I told you about my poker buddy Doyle (a different Doyle than the one you’re thinking of) getting involved in a hand with 99. He called a raise preflop, called a bet on the 3c-8s-7d flop, then they all checked to him on the turn, which made the board 3c–8s–7d–7c.

The pot was 196 and Doyle bet half—98. I explained why I wished he’d bet bigger.

But so be it—Doyle bets 98 and gets called by both players. This is actually excellent news, in that there was no raise. The turn is where most people would spring a trap, if there is a trap to be sprung. This is where we would hear from A7, and 87, and 33 and all those awful hands. Furthermore, a random 7 is unlikely to let the turn go by unraised because of the scary straight and flush draws on the board. Indeed, things are looking pretty good. Let’s see if Doyle can fade a river card.

There’s 490 in the pot, and the river is the 6h, making the board 3c–8s–7d–7c–6h. Wow. Short of spiking a 9 (or maybe a third 7), this is a glorious river card. Nothing bigger than Doyle’s pair. Yes, it makes a straight for T9, but hey, he blocks T9 pretty heavily. It also makes a straight for 54, but if 54 made it to the river, well, good for them.

Both villains check to Doyle, who… press Pause.

What do you do here?

Before you answer, consider this: there is 490 in the pot and only 190 behind. If you or Doyle are to bet, then there’s just one sane sizing—everything in front of you. Bet or check?

Got your answer? Write it on a slip of paper so we know you’re not past-posting.

Here’s what I would do: I’d bet the rest of ‘em. There is nothing to suggest there’s a better hand out there. Could somebody have JJ? Sure. Could somebody have turned 8s full and let Doyle just continue to fire chips in? Of course. But you can’t worry about monsters under the bed. Note that Doyle beats every single 8 that isn’t 88. He beats A8, K8, J8, T8. Those are all top pair, and if Doyle shoves the river, the villain is getting 3.5:1 to call with top pair. A lot of people can’t lay down top pair for that price.

Okay, let’s press play and see what our hero did.

Doyle checked back. One villain had T6, and had chased his gutshot to the river, and hit third pair on the river. The other had some random jack-high hand that was no good. Doyle won the pot.

Now, would the guy with T6 have called Doyle’s shove on the river, having hit third pair? We’ll never know, but that’s not the point. I think my buddy Doyle missed a golden opportunity to go for value—48 extra BBs that could have easily ended up in his stack, either as the cards lay, or if one of the villains had an 8.

I said as much in the hand discussion group.

Doyle said, “I thought it made sense to check the river—we just get snapped by hands that win and since we were multi-way I wanted to be more careful.

I agree we get snap-called by hands that beat us. And I agree it makes sense to be more careful multi-way. But after three streets of betting, and both villains checking to us, it looks for all the world that we have the best hand. Our prize for acting last is we get to see both of them check the river. Had either of them been beating us, they would have done the betting, for fear that we’d check down the river. With just 190 behind and 490 in the pot, we’d have to call a shove. But neither of them took that option. So we have the best hand. So we bet.

Doyle: “Also, these dudes have 7x and overpairs frequently; they are massive fish who aren’t playing any sort of consistent strategy.” Sure, they can have all kinds of crazy random hands, and no doubt their strategy is generated by throwing darts. But either they have a hand that beats you, or they don’t. If they can have any random 7 (which beats you) then they can have any random 8 (which you beat). They don’t get to pick only crazy random hands that suck out on premiums. They checked—let’s get value from those 8s.

Doyle: “Also, I’m scared money because I’m shot-taking.

There we go. The deep truth of the matter. Look, everybody—everybody—is nervous when they’re taking shots. Every single time I’ve taken a shot (and I took a big one recently) I’ve been nervous. But my successful shots (there have been good and catastrophic ones) have been when I settled my nerves and played my best poker. Not perfect poker, not nervousness-free poker. But playing as well as I knew how, and minimizing the effect of the stakes on my game. Doyle was honest and transparent that the stakes had affected his playing. Would he have gone for that third street of value in his regular game? Who knows?

But after all this review, analysis, and discussion, I think the moral of the story has very little to do with value betting 99 on the river. It’s about asking yourself, before you sit down in that bigger game, “Let’s suppose I get to the river, and think I have a clear, but somewhat thin, value bet. Let’s further suppose that in my regular game, I’d not hesitate to fire that third barrel. Will I fire that third barrel in this game?” Because if the answer is “No,” then it’s not time to take that shot yet. Does that make you a weak poker player? No, it makes you a wise and disciplined poker player. I think my buddy Doyle is well on the way to that level of enlightenment.

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 www.leejones.com.