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Scare Cards on the River

How to deal with scary cards in a poker game

I'm willing to bet that you just dread the idea of dealing with scare cards on the river. It's a major pain in the behind of every poker player but it happens to us all. A big part of the fear comes from the simple fact that most of us aren't adequately prepared to deal with the situation.

Scare cards come in a variety of forms. It could be the third or fourth flush card; it could be a small card that pairs the board and counterfeits your two-pair or it could be any number of cards you didn't want to see. For the sake of making this article digestible, we'll just assume today's scare card is a flush card.

It's ten times easier to deal with scare cards when you have the power of position so remember that before you even get into the situation in the first place. We're not going to worry about that today. Instead, this article is going to tackle the most difficult situation of all: dealing with scare cards on the river when you are playing from out of position.

There are four lines you can take when a scare cards hits on the river:

1) Check and call
2) Check and fold
3) Continue betting as if nothing happened
4) Blocking bet

Check and call

This line is best used against smart, aggressive players. It works against these guys the best because they won't call with a weaker hand if you bet but if you check it gives them a chance to bluff the scare card. If you bet in this situation, a smart, aggressive player would fold his weaker hands and only call with stronger hands - a bad outcome for you.

The biggest weakness to this line is that it's the most passive option you can take. By checking and calling, you give control of the hand to your opponent. You don't want to check and call every time against good players because eventually they'll just value bet you to death when they have good hands. Sometimes, you'll have to check and fold.

Check and fold

Folding is never fun if you had a strong hand on earlier streets but folding is a part of the game. This option is best used against tight, predictable opponents and passive calling stations. These types of opponents are the least likely to bluff and are therefore the most likely types of players to actually have a hand when they bet. This is especially true if you're up against a fishy draw chaser.

Another good time to check and fold is when the scare card is just ridiculous. If it puts 4 to the straight or 4 to the flush on the board, don't even waste your time. Yes, this is a great time for your opponents to bluff you but there's no reliable way for you to tell whether or not they're bluffing. Luckily this situation doesn't come up often so if you get bluffed out once in a while it's not a big deal.

Continue betting as if nothing happened

This is the most aggressive and most underutilized option out of them all. Just because someone called your two bets on the flop and turn when there was a possible flush draw out there doesn't mean they had a flush draw. If you continue betting, you have the chance to get value from weaker hands. If you bet on the flop and turn, people with weaker hands won't put you on the flush draw so they'll be more likely to call you with hands you can beat.

This option is best used against passive opponents and when you really don't want to fold your hand. When you don't want to fold your hand, you continue betting so that it makes it extra expensive for them to try and bluff you. Pot sized river bets are usually pretty large so it takes a big commitment to raise them. If an opponent is willing to put most of his stack in to raise your river bet, you can fold your hand knowing that he probably wasn't bluffing. This is especially true if you showed strength earlier when your hand was the best one.

Blocking bet

This is my least favorite option because it's the most obvious. Blocking bets do have their places, however. A blocking bet is a smaller bet on the river that's used to discourage opponents from bluffing you. It's not as powerful as a regular, pot-sized bet but it's a lot cheaper if your opponent has the hand you're worried about.

You're going to have to get inside the head of your opponent to know when the blocking bet is a good idea. Some opponents raise all blocking bets on principle and others will fear it's a small value bet. If the scare card is a flush card, I'd be hesitant to use the blocking bet because flush cards are so easily recognizable as scare cards.


A big part of no limit strategy is learning how to handle difficult situations. Anyone can play a flopped full house. What separates the great poker players from the average ones is the ability to handle difficult situations. Don't shy away from these situations, meet them head on. Save your hand histories and review some of the harder spots you get stuck in. I'll bet you can find an acceptable solution every time.

This poker strategy article will hopefully help you improve your online poker game.