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Don’t Be A Pushover

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Mar 15, 2017

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Early in a $3,500 buy-in tournament with blinds at 25-50, one of my students raised to 150 out of his 5,000 stack from second position at a nine-handed table with JSpade Suit JDiamond Suit. Only a strong, loose, splashy player called on the button.

My student’s preflop raise is perfectly fine and standard. There is no reason to raise larger with pocket jacks in attempt to make your opponents fold. While many amateurs think they need to “protect” their strong, yet vulnerable, hands by making a large preflop raise, this only makes their opponents play well. You win money at poker when your opponents make mistakes, not when they fold their dominated hands. Sometimes you will get outdrawn when you get action from a junky hand, but that is a risk you must be willing to take if you want to have any chance of succeeding at poker.

The flop came KHeart Suit KDiamond Suit 8Club Suit. My student bet 200 into the 375 pot, his opponent raised to 600, and my student called.

I like my student’s flop bet. If the stacks were shorter, I would prefer a smaller bet of 125, although when playing 100 big blinds deep, I am fine with a half-pot bet. When raised, given the read that the opponent is loose, splashy, and more than capable of bluffing, I think calling is mandatory. While my student could easily be crushed by trip Kings, if my student folds J-J, he is folding almost every hand in his range, especially if he continuation bets with most of his range on this dry board.

When playing against competent players, you must be aware of which hands make up your range. If you fold too many of them when raised or bet into, your opponent can profit by blindly applying aggression. Overly aggressive players fare well in small and middle stakes games because their opponents fold too often. Overly aggressive players become significant losers in high stakes games because their opponents know they cannot fold too often and defend accordingly.

In this situation, the opponent is risking 600 to win a 575 pot. This means that if he steals the pot more than 51 percent of the time (600/1,175), he will immediately profit. If my student folds J-J, he is certainly folding more than half of his range, making a fold not a viable option. In fact, depending on how wide my student is continuation betting, he may have to defend with hands as weak as ace-high in order to not let his opponent immediately profit by raising with any two cards.

The turn was the KSpade Suit. My student checked, his opponent bet 700 into the 1,575 pot, and my student called.

Using the same logic that resulted in my student calling on the flop, my student has to call on the turn. As on the flop, if my student folds this hand, he is folding almost his entire range. Notice that if my student opted to reraise his full houses and trips on the flop (which I do not recommend), A-A, Q-Q, and J-J are the absolute best hands in his range. You never want to be in a spot where you are tempted to fold the best hands in your range when facing a strong player. Even if my student calls with all his trips on the flop, J-J is still quite high in his range.

The river was the 4Club Suit. My student checked and his opponent checked behind, showing down 5Heart Suit 4Heart Suit, giving my student a nice pot.

Had the opponent not rivered a hand with a bit of showdown value, I wonder if he would have pushed all-in for a bit more than the size of the pot. This would have put my student in a nasty spot. Depending on how my student’s range is set up, he may be able to fold to a river all-in. If the opponent pushed for the size of the pot, he needs to steal it roughly 50 percent of the time to show a profit. This means that my student must call with at least 50 percent of his range.

If his range only contains decent pairs and quads, perhaps J-J is close enough to the bottom of the range to justify folding. If his range contains lots of Ace-highs, folding J-J would be much too tight. Especially when playing against strong opponents, always think about the composition of your range and play it in a manner that leads to difficult spots for your opponent. Do not play in a manner that allows your opponents to win simply by betting whenever you show weakness. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at JonathanLittlePoker.com, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at HoldemBook.com/signup.