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Playing Too Passively

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Jun 20, 2018


I was recently told about a hand by a $2-$5 player that illustrates a few detrimental mistakes many players make on a regular basis. Everyone folded around to a regular, presumably decent player on the button who raised to $20 out of his $500 effective stack. The small blind folded and our Hero decided to call from the big blind with 8Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit.

When facing a large four-big blind raise, Hero should three-bet or fold most of his hands that will often be difficult to play postflop. This includes hands like Hero’s 8Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit because most of the time, it will flop a marginal pair or a marginal draw, both of which are not premium holdings that will have a difficult time continuing if they face multiple bets. This leak of calling large raises from out of position is one of the main reasons many $2-$5 players never profitably move up to larger games. I would have three-bet to $70 some portion of the time (depending on my opponent’s preflop strategy) and folded the rest.

I understand that a four-big blind raise is commonplace in many $2-$5 games. If that is the case in your games, fold most of the time from the big blind. When facing large raises, you simply don’t need to defend too often because your opponent is risking so much to win so little.

The flop came KDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit 7Diamond Suit, giving Hero a flush and straight draw. Hero checked, the button bet $25 into the $42 pot, and Hero called.

While Hero is certainly getting the right price to draw to his multitude of outs, I think check-raising to $80 is usually the best option in this situation, especially if the opponent tends to continuation bet the flop too often (as many regs do). Check-raising will win the pot immediately some portion of the time and when it doesn’t, Hero will be able to continue betting the turn essentially every time.

Hero should also make this check-raise with many of his best made hands, including sets, two pairs, and perhaps some top pairs. This strategy will make him difficult to play against because the opponent will have no idea whether he is value betting or semi-bluffing. Another reason to check-raise is that if Hero calls and improves on the turn, the opponent will likely check behind with most of his non-premium hands, and if Hero decides to lead the turn when he improves, he denies his opponent’s opportunity to bluff. In general, check-raising your draws that have no showdown value is often the best play.

The turn was the KSpade Suit. Hero checked, the button bet $40 into the $92 pot, and Hero called.

The king is certainly a bad card for Hero, given the opponent should have essentially all kings in his range and would usually bet them on the flop and turn. The opponent may also continue value betting with many of his nines. While folding is still out of the question due to Hero’s excellent pot odds, calling is a viable option. However, as on the flop, if Hero improves on the river, he will have a difficult time getting paid. For this reason, and the fact that Hero would like to also check-raise some of his kings, he should again check-raise, this time to about $130. It is always rough when you are against trips, but when you aren’t, you will put your opponent in a difficult spot where even if he decides to make a big turn call, he may fold to a river bet or you may improve. Of course, if Hero knew the opponent would only bet the turn with trips and better made hands, he should instead call.

The river was the KHeart Suit.

This is a rough spot, but Hero should at least consider leading, given he has no showdown value and should strongly consider betting if he has quads (although there may be no quads in his range because he would have raised his kings on the flop or turn). A small river bet of $70 into the $172 pot is quite nice because the opponent will almost certainly fold all of his hands worse than a full house, many of which may still be in his range if he bets the flop and turn with all his possible draws (notice all draws missed).

Another reason not to lead this hand is because knowing the 8Diamond Suit and 6Diamond Suit cannot be in the opponent’s hand makes it a bit less likely that he has a busted flush draw (one of the hands Hero wants to make fold). That said, since Hero should realistically have no quads, he can’t justify leading without some sort of a read on the opponent that justifies making the exploitative play.

Both players checked and Hero lost to ASpade Suit 9Club Suit. ♠

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