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Facing A Good, Creative Opponent

by Jonathan Little |  Published: May 13, 2015


I recently had the opportunity to play in the €5,300 European Poker Tour Malta main event. Things were going reasonably well. I had built my 30,000 starting stack up to 80,000 when the following hand took place. My opponent in this hand is a world-class player who regularly takes creative betting lines. While he generally plays a tight, aggressive strategy, he is certainly capable of getting well out of line if he thinks the time is right.

At 500-1,000 with a 100 ante, my creative opponent raised to 3,000 from the button out of his 70,000 stack. I called with QClub Suit QHeart Suit and we saw a heads-up flop.

At this point, I was somewhat unsure what my opponent’s three big blind raise meant. He was varying his open raise size between two big blinds and 3.5 big blinds. If I had to guess, I would say that the larger raises were likely weak hands, but it is impossible to know for sure. If I think my opponent’s range is weak or if I think he would play in a tight, straightforward manner if I reraise, calling becomes the best play. It is important to note that I do not have to worry about the blinds coming along as often as normal due to the hefty three big blind raise size. Of course, if I have an aggressive dynamic with my opponent, reraising would be the best play by far because then I could happily get Q-Q all in preflop, or at least bloat the pot in position in a spot where my opponent would be unlikely to fold.

The flop came JHeart Suit 9Heart Suit 4Club Suit and my opponent checked.

I was somewhat surprised by the check, although I know this specific player likes to take abnormal flop lines. He could easily have total air and be giving up or a marginal made hand, a strong made hand, or a draw, looking to either check-call or check-raise. Unless he has a set or an overpair, I have the best hand, so at least at the moment, I am not too concerned with being beat. Betting is a great option if it will get called by most marginal made hands and draws. If my opponent check-raised, I would be in a tough spot, but I would likely call with the intention of calling down versus this specific player on most safe run outs.

I bet 4,500 and my opponent called. The turn was the 5Spade Suit. My opponent led into me for 7,600 into the 17,400 pot.

At this point, given what I know about my opponent, he could have a wide range of hands. I would generally assume he does not have many marginal made hands, perhaps middle pair and worse, but he could certainly have top pair and better. He could also have all of the draws. Against this range, I am in great shape with my overpair, but if I raise I am unsure if my opponent will invest his entire stack without a better made hand than mine or a premium draw. Since I am in great shape against my opponent’s turn-betting range but only marginal shape against the range he would likely continue with if I raised, I decided to call. Any time you are in fantastic shape if you take a passive line but marginal shape if you take an aggressive line and get action, you should tend to take the passive line, especially if some amount of chips are going into the pot.

I called. The river was the 9Club Suit. My opponent bet 10,300 into the 32,600 pot.

Given all of the missed draws and the fact my opponent could easily be value betting with top pair, I simply must call. This situation would be much tougher if my opponent went all-in, betting 55,800 into the 32,600 pot, although I would likely still call because it is somewhat difficult for my opponent to have a nine given my turn read that he would check most middle pair hands. As on the turn, I think I have the best hand almost every time if I call but if I raise, I will probably only get called by perhaps K-J and better made hands. While I beat A-J and K-J, I lose to every other hand in that range. Of course, if my opponent thinks I am wild, he may call me with made hands as weak as Ace high, mainly because all of the obvious draws missed. However at this point, I think my opponent viewed me as a strong player who generally takes lines that do not lead to unnecessary risk.

I called and beat my opponent’s ASpade Suit JClub Suit.

While I certainly missed value versus this exact hand, I still like my play. It is important not to “beat yourself up” when you make a play that is likely ideal versus your opponent’s entire range. In this situation, you must realize that calling on the turn and river makes it nearly impossible for me to go broke when I happen to be beat, while at the same time extracting value from worse made hands and draws. Raising would have protected my hand and perhaps got value from exactly A-J and K-J, but it also opens the door for me to lose my entire stack, which would have been a disaster. ♠

Jonathan 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, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker.



almost 6 years ago

I guess I am just confused; the way I read the details, the villain raised on the button, so how could he go for a check-raise? Shouldn't Jonathan have had to act first? I'm lost on that whole check-call, check raise situation.


almost 6 years ago

It was an interesting way to keep the pot small with top pair/ top kicker. I have never considered playing top-pair by check calling out of position, re-taking the lead on the turn and finishing with a river blocking bet.