The short life of the River Rat
By Jack Clayton
There’s one in every crowd. The loudmouth who mucks up a quiet family dinner, the athlete who turns the ball over and costs you a winning ticket at the sports book, or the guy at work who makes one screw-up that ruins eight hours of hard work by everyone else on the team.
Most of us who play poker regularly want to improve our skills, maximize card playing efficiency and turn a regular profit. Winning poker requires enormous skill, patience and practice. But a River Rat is the ultimate monkey wrench, a poor player who wins in spite of themselves. Someone who does things the wrong way but comes out on top – at least temporarily.
It happens. And it’s frustrating to go against someone who is a weaker player, makes bad decisions, but gets the right card at the end and trumps you. Especially if that novice player gets a bunch of lucky breaks and goes on a role. This may shake your confidence or even cause you to question whether you need to re-think your moves.
However, successful poker over the long haul is far less about luck. It’s about mathematics, studying your opponents, sound decisions and strategy while doing things the right way consistently. You can turn a consistent profit by learning the craft of poker, playing smart, and sticking with sound, tested strategies.
The River Rat is one of those bumps in the road you will come across that defy logic, but don’t let it shake you. Your job is to carefully study the moves your opponents make and create a mental checklist. Limping into a pot means when players simply call the minimum bet pre-flop, rather than raising or folding when doing so makes more sense. This is a sign that your opponent is not very experienced or skilled.
Another sign is when a player regularly plays pots out of position. Playing last is the best position to be in. Not being in that position is when you can identify good, bad and marginal players — and others take note of how you act out of position. For instance, if you take a flop three-handed and it’s checked to you, you know the first two players didn’t want to wager. That tells you they don’t care for their hands. If you’re out of position you don’t have that vital information to calculate and have to be concerned with players acting after you.
Passive players are the easiest to spot, which also signals a below average game. Information and positioning are two enormous components of poker. Most online poker sites have a ”search for player” function built into the software. Why? Smart players make a list of bad players and seek out those tables. “Come into my web, said the spider to the fly…”
This is all about sizing-up your opponents, keeping track of cards that are visible and playing the percentages. Then you take advantage of those suspect opponents. The River Rat, however, can muck all of that up. Yes, it’s frustrating to play it right and recognize that your opponent is playing things wrong, then have that guy get a lucky river card and top you. And if it happens again, it’s even more frustrating.
But don’t get flustered and start to change your strategy. At a table, the River Rat will probably show emotion when stealing a pot he should have lost. That Rat was lucky, sticking his nose in the trap and instead of getting caught he walked away with an expensive chunk of cheese only because the trap was jammed — not because you played it wrong. Rats who rely on luck don’t last long in life or in poker. They will get busted soon enough, while the skilled player will bounce back and profit a few hands or a few hours later.
Remember this: The River Rat is considered one of the worst players at the poker table. They will usually bet the flop if they have decent cards and upon seeing the flop they don’t even like will likely call any wager you toss at them. They may pull a surprise and top you a few times, but they’re showing desperation by hoping that the final flop turns in their favor.
The long-term odds are that they won’t turn a profit, so you’re better off facing them even if they get a break and top you from time to time. Winning poker is about putting the odds in your favor and the River Rat doesn’t do that consistently. In the end, the River Rat will eventually get his nose jammed in the trap and be squashed, while you’ll have far more cheese if you play things correctly and coolly.