River Bet Timing Tells

A brick comes on the river. I look down on my middle pair on an uncoordinated board as my opponent fires out a ½ pot sized bet. I can only beat a bluff. Whether you choose to call, raise or fold depends on your opponent and the action on previous streets. But how often do people generally bluff on the river and is the time they take to make a bet related to the likelihood of a bet being a bluff? Some general guidance can go a long way…

So I decided to set aside four hours of my time to observe some PartyPoker $200NL tables. I wanted at least 40 cases to get a general idea of bluffing and bet timing. I measured the amount of time it took someone to place a bet with a stopwatch and then rated the hand as a bluff or not a bluff if the hand went to showdown. (If the hand didn’t go to showdown, I discarded the result). A hand was labeled as a bluff if it could only beat 70% or less of any other possible hands heads-up (this was determined using PokerStove). Although the odds appear deceptively favorable, in reality, weak hands are discarded in earlier rounds of betting and the chances that a bluffer’s hand will win are relatively low. Generally, having a middle pair with a poor kicker would be considered a bluff, along with a lot of worse (and sometimes better hands) depending on the board. Bet timing was divided into 0–6 second, 6–12 second, and 12–18 second intervals.
vThirteen out of forty, or 32.5% of players, bluffed on the river. Of the players that did bluff, 85% took less than 12 seconds to bet. Twenty-seven of forty players, or 67.5% of players did not bluff on the river. Of the players that did not bluff, 74% of them took less than 12 seconds to place their bet.

In general, most river bets are not bluffs. Of the players that did bluff on the river, they tended to bet quicker than players that are not bluffing on the river. These results may, or may not, apply to other streets.

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