Food for thought on a pointless river

This spot has come up a few times recently and it blows me away every time. It will be a board like ace-king-queen-ten on the river, with no flush or full house possible, so a jack plus any other Broadway card makes the nut straight. Someone bets, someone else raises, the first guy thinks for less than a second and pots (raises the maximum). The other guy always calls and they chop the pot.

If you don’t see anything strange about this you’re not the only one. No one ever bats an eye when this happens. But I’d argue that if you’re thinking about playing the river in a reasonable way,  it’s very strange. On a board like this in PLO there aren’t really any second best hands. Either you have the straight or you don’t. So when the first guy bets he’s saying he has the straight. When the second guy raises he’s saying he definitely has the straight. If you’re the first guy and you’re sitting there with the straight, you can’t really make any more money. Either he has the straight and you’re chopping, or he has a bluff and he’s not putting any more money in. If this spot comes up between two good players, usually the first guy just calls to save time. If you wanted to make more money, I guess you could raise the minimum to represent some sort of crazy re-bluff, but honestly the only way you’re getting more money is if the other guy misread his hand or doesn’t know the rules. I guess you could make the case that if the other guy doesn’t know what he has you might as well make the maximum, so you should pot, but that’s awfully optimistic. In any case, the way some people bet, I can tell their thought process has two parts: 1. I have the nuts. 2. Pot.

There are two good things that can happen when you bet on the river. You can make someone fold a better hand (that’s a bluff) or you can get called by a worse hand (that’s a value bet). In other words, no matter how awesome your hand is, it doesn’t do you much good if you can’t get called by a worse hand. When someone instantly pots in that spot, I can tell they’re only thinking about their own hand – not the opponent’s hand. But what the other guy has matters every bit as much as what you have. Now in this spot it doesn’t really matter – you’re not making any money no matter what you do. But when I see someone do this, I can almost guarantee they’re messing up a lot of other spots that do matter.

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