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Avoiding A Cooler With Top Pair

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Nov 07, 2018


I recently played a hand in a $5,000 buy-In World Poker Tour event where I flopped top pair, top kicker but somehow managed to fold on the flop. Sometimes you are simply beat and have to make a disciplined laydown, even when you flop an abnormally strong hand.

With blinds at 400-800 with an 800 big blind ante, I raised to 2,200 out of my 100,000 stack from first position at an eight-handed table with AHeart Suit JHeart Suit.

A-J suited may seem a bit too weak to raise from first position to some, but it is a fine hand that should essentially always be raised. However, A-J offsuit should be folded. It turns out that being suited greatly adds to your post-flop playability, not only because you make more premium hands by the river, but you are presented with many more situations where you have a significant amount of equity, allowing you to both check-call and bluff more often. If you want to loosen up your ranges a bit, it is usually best to add suited hands before unsuited ones.

A tight player with 40,000 chips called from middle position, as did a good, tight aggressive kid with 80,000 from the small blind. The big blind folded.

The flop came JClub Suit 8Diamond Suit 5Club Suit, giving me top pair. The small blind checked and I bet 5,200 into the 8,200 pot.

I like my flop bet size. When the board is somewhat draw-heavy, it is important that you continuation bet with your strong, but vulnerable made hands. While I usually have the best hand at the moment, any king, queen, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, or club could easily beat me. Especially when you are not sure which turn cards you have to worry about, you should bet to protect your vulnerable made hand against all of them.

The middle position player called and then the small blind check-raised to 17,000.
That is not what I wanted to see! When someone check-raises from out of position on a coordinated board, their range usually consists of premium made hands and draws. Assuming my opponent is only check-raising with overpairs and better made hands (which is probably the case), I am in awful shape against all his made hands. Even if he check-raises K-J from time to time, I am still in bad shape against that range. If he has a draw, I have about 60 percent equity.

So, I am either in terrible shape or slightly ahead. Because my opponent is on the tighter side, he may have fewer draws in his range than normal, meaning he is more likely to have a strong made hand. If the stacks were shallow, I would have to get all-in due to the decent pot odds, but with our 100-big blind effective stacks, I simply have to get out of the way. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you have to play for all of your money simply because you got a favorable flop.

Do not forget to account for the middle position player who called my flop bet. While he is unlikely to have too many premium hands, from time to time he will show up with a slowplayed 8-8, 5-5, or a premium draw like 10Club Suit 9Club Suit. As there are more players in the pot, you have to proceed cautiously when facing significant aggression.

I folded, the middle position player jammed all-in for 40,000 and the small blind called.

The middle position player had 5-5 and the small blind had 8-8. Good thing I folded! ♠

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