Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Playing A Marginal Middle Pair

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Dec 07, 2016


I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Resorts Casino in Atlantic City for the PokerStars Festival: New Jersey. I had a lot of fun grinding the tournaments and streaming my play on Twitch. The following hand came up in a $2,000 side event that I thought was particularly interesting.

With blinds at 50-100 with 30,000 effective stacks, a good, loose-aggressive kid raised to 300 from the button. I decided to call from the big blind with 10Spade Suit 10Club Suit. While I would normally three-bet my strong hands, I think calling is a perfectly acceptable option with 100 percent of my playable range versus an aggressive player who is capable of putting me in difficult postflop situations, even if I three-bet and then apply post-flop aggression.

Many strong, but non-premium hands (such as 10-10 and A-J) play much better when called as opposed to three-bet when deep stacked from out of position because they usually do not flop the nuts after the flop. With hands that will frequently be marginal made hands, you want to limit your risk. Three-betting preflop maximizes your risk versus strong loose, aggressive players who will play well after the flop.

The flop came QClub Suit 9Club Suit 2Club Suit, giving me middle pair and a decent flush draw. I checked, my opponent bet 175 into the 650 pot and I called.

I think check-calling is the only play that makes sense. With your marginal made hands, you want to see a cheap showdown, at least until it becomes clear that your made hand is best. When your opponent is betting, even when he bets small, it is easy to be behind.

Notice that even if I am behind top pair or a weak flush, I have outs to improve to a ten-high flush. This makes folding out of the question. I do not think check-raising has any merit because my opponent will only call with top pair and better made hands, and strong draws. I would much rather check-call, forcing my opponent to stay in with his entire continuation betting range.

It is worth mentioning that I think many players’ tiny flop bets indicates a marginal made hand or a marginal draw. I really don’t want that range to fold because most of it is drawing dead or nearly dead versus my hand. Leading has a bit of merit but I tend to avoid exploitive lines versus competent opponents, especially when I do not know which tendency I am trying to exploit.

The turn was the 8Spade Suit. I checked, my opponent bet 600 into the 1,000 pot and I called.

As on the flop, I think check-calling is the only play that has any merit. The turn card did not hurt my hand too much, besides the fact that I now lose to J-10, Q-8, 9-8, and 8-8. If I was behind on the flop, I picked up a few outs to a straight. Again, with a marginal made hand, check-raising has no merit (unless I think my opponent would fold all top pairs and perhaps weak two-pairs to a check-raise).

The river was the 3Diamond Suit. I checked, my opponent bet 2,100 into the 2,200 pot.

When my opponent takes the line of “small bet, normal bet, large bet” he usually has a polarized range by the river. This means that I am almost certainly facing an overpair, two pair, set, flush, or busted draw. Notice that there are a bunch of potential busted draws, such as A-J, K-J, A-10, K-10, and nut flush draws. While some of the other draws improved to a pair, I would not put it past a strong loose, aggressive player to turn a hand like AClub Suit 2Heart Suit or JClub Suit 8Heart Suit into a bluff. This should lead me to make a hero call, at least until I have more information about my opponent’s tendencies. Of course, if my opponent thinks that I am a calling station, I should fold. If he thinks that he can push me around, I should call.

With no reads and the fact that I block some of the potential flushes and straights thanks to my tens, I decided to call. My opponent showed a value bet with 8Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit, a set.

Notice that my flop check-call allowed him to improve to a set, but losing this pot isn’t too big of a deal as my opponent was drawing to exactly one out. When he fails to improve to a set, I will usually win one more bet. This means that I will win a small pot about 97 percent of the time and lose a large pot about 3 percent of the time. Of course, I am usually not in this good of shape, but it isn’t significantly worse than that. By check-calling, I gave my opponent the chance to improve to a second best hand that could pay off one bet, as well as the chance to run a bluff. Especially when you crush all the marginal made hands and bluffs, you should check, giving your opponent every possible opportunity to make a significant blunder. In exchange for giving them the betting lead, they will occasionally catch up, resulting in you losing the pot. That is the price you pay for keeping them in when they are drawing thin. ♠

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, 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