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Don’t Go Broke: How To Survive A Cooler

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Dec 01, 2021


One of my students recently played an interesting hand that illustrates a skill that you must master if you want to succeed at poker.

In the early stages of a $500 buy-in poker tournament with the blinds at 25-50 with 18,000 effective stacks, my student (we will call him Hero), raised to 125 from second position with 4Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit.

In a tough tournament, you may want to consider open folding small pairs from early position, but raising in most tournaments is fine. I like Hero’s preflop raise with the small pair, I would prefer to make it a full three times the big blind (150 in this situation) due to the very deep stacks.

In general, you want to build a pot early, so that if you flop a premium hand, you can invest more money later.

Only the cutoff and hijack called. The flop came 8Club Suit 5Club Suit 4Heart Suit, giving Hero bottom set. Hero then bet 350 into the 450 pot. The hijack decided to raise to 1,200, and the cutoff folded.

Hero’s continuation bet with a set is excellent because it builds the pot without looking obviously strong. Once the hijack raises, however, calling is the only play that has any merit for Hero.

While there is an obvious flush draw available that Hero wants to protect against, there are a few made hands (8-8, 5-5, and 7-6) against which Hero wants to minimize his losses. If Hero reraises the flop, he will most likely fold out most of his opponent’s bluffs and medium-to-weak hands. And if his opponent continues in the hand, either by calling or re-reraising, Hero has to be concerned that he is up against a better made hand, if not a massive draw.

In this case, three-betting the flop would turn his bottom set into a bluff catcher in a gigantic pot. The best play is to go into a defensive mode against the aggressor and just call.

Hero wisely called. The turn was the ASpade Suit. Now Hero checked, and his opponent bet 2,800 into the 2,850 pot.

As on the flop, Hero should play defensively in order to lose the least amount possible when he happens to be against a better made hand, while also giving his opponent another opportunity to bluff. Notice that Hero’s main objective is not to protect his hand from the various draws, but to instead protect his stack when he happens to be crushed. Folding to the turn bet is not an option because Hero often has the best hand and even when he happens to be against a straight, he still has 10 clean outs to the effective nuts should the board pair or give him quads on the river.

Hero again just called. The river was the 7Club Suit. Both players checked, and Hero lost to his opponent’s 7Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit.

Luckily, one of the scariest cards arrived on the river, saving Hero a significant river bet. If the river was not a club, 7 or 6, Hero would be forced to call a river bet because his hand is drastically under-represented and the opponent could easily bluff with all his missed draws.

Of course, if you are playing live poker and get the vibe that your opponent clearly thinks he has the best hand, you can perhaps justify folding. That said, many players make the mistake of being quite confident in theirs reads only to be shown an overvalued “strong” hand like A-8.

While some players look at this loss and are unhappy, Hero played it well to not go broke. Many worse players in this spot raise the flop or turn and pile their stack in, only to find themselves quickly on the rail in a deep stacked event with only a cooler of a story to tell. ♠

Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at