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Playing Top Pair In A Multi-Way Pot

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Apr 26, 2017

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I was recently told about an interesting hand from a $1-$2 live no-limit cash game by one of my students that I think is particularly educational. The Hero in question raised from first position at a nine-handed table to $12 out of his $600 stack with ADiamond Suit QDiamond Suit.

While there are certainly times to use larger than normal preflop raise sizes, I tend to not use them until I am convinced my opponents will call with all sorts of junk. It is a disaster if your opponents will call a raise to $7 with hands you crush like A-9 and Q-J but will fold to a raise to $12. For this reason, I typically start off making pot-sized raises before the flop. If over the course of the session it becomes clear that my opponents will call gigantic preflop raises with many hands I dominate with my strong hands, I will then start considering making larger raise sizes. So, this $12 raise could either be terrible or a great exploitative play.

To be clear, your goal when making it $12 is certainly not to try to make your opponents fold hands that you crush. You make money from poker when your opponents make errors. If they fold correctly before the flop to a large raise, they are playing well, not making mistakes.

A somewhat tight player called the $12 raise from second position, as did unknown players in the hijack, cutoff, and button. A maniac also called in the big blind out of his somewhat short $115 stack.

Clearly using the $12 preflop raise size was a wise adjustment, given five players called. Some people view getting called by multiple players as a horrible result, because ADiamond Suit QDiamond Suit will often lose, but this is actually a great situation. While you will lose this hand a large amount of the time, you will certainly realize more than one-sixth of the equity from this pot. With your ADiamond Suit QDiamond Suit, you may realize up to perhaps one-quarter of the pot on average. When you put in one-sixth of the money and you will win one-quarter of it on average, you are in an incredibly profitable situation, even though you will lose “most” of the time.

The flop came ASpade Suit KDiamond Suit 3Spade Suit. The big blind checked, as did our Hero with top pair.

I really hate this check. This is a flop where Hero should have the best hand a huge amount of the time, and it is coordinated such that someone else can easily call a bet with hands that Hero has in bad shape. By checking, Hero allows either the flop to check around or for someone else to bet and drive the action with an unknown range from in position. I would have bet about $40 into the $73 pot if I was playing this hand.

The player in second position checked to the hijack, who bet $15. The cutoff folded and the button called. The maniac in the big blind then check-raised all-in for his entire $103 stack. Hero decided to call $103.

This is a difficult spot for Hero because he has no clue if the hijack is betting small because he really wants to get action or because he has a marginal hand that does not want to invest significant money. Also, the maniac could easily have A-3, K-3, or a decent flush draw that Hero is in marginal shape against, although his range could be quite wide. Taking all of these factors into account, I think Hero should make a snug fold, although calling or perhaps raising (depending on the remaining stack sizes) are not the worst options. That said, I would have folded.

The somewhat tight player in second position decided to also call $103 out of his $348 stack. The hijack decided to fold.

The turn was the 10Spade Suit. Hero checked.

When the obvious flush draw arrives on the turn, Hero has an easy check. If he bets, he will almost certainly only get called when he is beat, or perhaps by a decently strong hand that also has a flush draw, like AClub Suit JSpade Suit.

The player in second position went all-in and Hero folded.

Hero made the obvious play folding, given he beats almost nothing.

The player in second position proudly tabled his AHeart Suit 10Club Suit and scooped the entire pot. We do not know what the big blind had because he mucked his cards. Clearly Hero’s assessment of the player in second position being somewhat tight was completely wrong as no tight player will call a $12 preflop raise with A-10 offsuit and will certainly not call a huge flop bet in a multi-way pot with top pair, bad kicker. It is important for this Hero to understand not to put too much weight in his assessments until he starts making better ones.

While this hand may appear to just be a tough spot for Hero, in reality, if he bet the flop, most likely the player in second position would have called, the hijack would have called, and then the maniac would have pushed all-in for $103. At that point, Hero could make a reraise in order to isolate the maniac, who should have a decently wide range (perhaps as wide as any ace or draw). As played, Hero allowed both the player in second position and the hijack to come along getting great pot odds, if they felt inclined.

While having the player in second position call the flop with an awful A-10 is a great result, most of the time when Hero gets action, it will be from hands that have a large amount of equity. While there is no guarantee Hero would have won the pot by playing in the way I suggested, I think he would have had a much better chance of playing heads-up against one somewhat weak range, which is an excellent spot to be in. ♠

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.