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Bluff the River Like a Pro and Improve Your Poker Strategy

Home » Guides » Bluff the River Like a Pro and Improve Your Poker Strategy

Bluff the River Like a Pro and Improve Your Poker Strategy

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
Organized stacks of poker chips by color, hand revealing 7 of diamonds and 2 of clubs in the background.

Bluffing, simply put, is an act of deception. It’s meant to make your weak hand look stronger than it is, with the intention of getting your opponent to fold.

One of the best ways to increase your win rate at low-stakes games is to become better at playing the river. The river is the last community card dealt, and strategic decisions made during this stage can significantly impact the outcome of the game.  

Bet sizes (and pot sizes) are higher on average on this street than on any other. You stand to gain the most by mastering this street, particularly by bluffing. Read on to find out how to bluff the river like a pro. 

What Is River Bluffing? 

The river is the final betting round in poker, and river bluffing means making a bet or raise on this final round with a hand that may not be strong enough to win at showdown. 

The aim of a river bluff is to try and convince opponents that you have a better hand than you actually do. This often leads to them folding stronger hands.

To bluff successfully, a player needs to have a good understanding of their opponents’ playing styles, and the overall dynamics of the hand. Bluffing in poker is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. 

The Technical Aspects of River Bluffing

Person revealing two cards with scattered stacks of chips in the surroundings.

More often than not, players simply don’t bluff on the river enough, or when they do, they pick the wrong spots. It can be the most daunting street to bluff as there is no safety net. Once you’re caught, there are no more cards to come. 

On top of understanding your opponents’ playing styles, and the betting history of the hand, you also need to consider your image, your position, the strength of your hand, and the size of the bet. 

To unpack the technical aspects further, below are three tips to help you bluff better on the river.

1. Follow the Minimum Defense Frequency Concept

Minimum defense frequency (MDF) is the fundamental concept upon which bluffing, particularly river bluffing, is based. MDF is a simple equation and looks like this: risk / (reward + risk).

If the solution to this equation is lower than the frequency at which your bluff is expected to work, then you’ve made a profit. This is what poker players call a +EV (positive expected value) bluff. As an example, say the pot is 50 big blinds, and you bet 66% of the pot and expect the bluff to work 45% of the time. Using the formula, the calculation would be as follows: 33bb / (50bb + 33bb) = 0.397.

That means a 39.7% frequency. That’s the MDF that your opponent must reach in order to deny you from generating profit with your bluffs. You know that your opponent is folding 45%, which makes this an immensely profitable bluff. 

2. Be Mindful of Blockers

Person closely holding two playing cards, with stacks of chips in front of them.

You may check your HUD (head-up display) or database and see that, on average, a spot is over-folded by a few percentages. This does not mean that all non-made hands should be bluffed.

The cards you hold can have a significant impact on the actual folding frequency of your opponent. Strong blockers may lead your opponent to fold a few percentage points, or even more, while weak blockers might result in your opponent calling more frequently.

3. Remember You Are Playing Against a Human

In live poker, you are playing against a human, not a computer program (or solver), so it’s worth having some exploitative strategies.

Equilibrium strategies on the river are extremely fragile, meaning solvers can make drastic changes based on slight alterations in inputs or situations. For instance, having one bluff strategy too many can shift the program from cautious to aggressive, while a shortage of bluff combos may prompt the solver to adopt a folding strategy.

Professional players are better at predicting how their opponent will approach a given situation, allowing them to extract more chips out of the pots that they play for.

Improving Your Win Rate

Making good bluffs on the river (and avoiding the bad ones) and understanding the rationale behind it can significantly boost your chances of winning in low-stakes poker. It’s not overly complicated, either.

First of all, make sure that you are making bluffs more often against the players who will actually fold. Their WTSD% is a great indication of this (how often they go to showdown). Fishy players are the types you want to avoid bluffing, while the tight regulars will be more susceptible. 

Secondly, be aware of what the community cards are and who they are likely to favor. Also, if you do decide to make a bluff, make sure that you can think of several value hands that you would play the exact same way.

Test Your Bluffing Strategy at BetMGM

At the poker table, you should always have some bluffs in your range, even if you think your opponent will over-call. While it might seem daunting, you don’t want to be seen as a timid player. Register with BetMGM for online poker, poker tournaments, and more online poker tips.

Poker players stand to gain the most by mastering the river, particularly by bluffing. Read on to find out how to bluff the river like a pro.