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Don’t Play Scared! Keep Them In The Pot

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Apr 06, 2022

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Jonathan LittleOne of the most common misconceptions that many recreational poker players have is that they should always try to protect their hand.

This is because they think that the worst thing that can possibly happen to them at the table is to get outdrawn by an inferior hand. It’s understandable. While winning pots and not getting outdrawn may sound like good things, it is even more important that you do not play gigantic pots when you happen to be crushed.

And that is exactly what happens when you blast money into the pot with your strong, but non-nut hands.

Suppose in a $1-$2 no-limit cash game with $200 effective stacks, two players limp from middle position and everyone else folds to you on the button. You look down at a hand like A-Q, A-J, or even Q-Q.

Many novice players think they are supposed to raise to an amount that will force the opponents to fold because that protects their hand. So, they raise to $20 or $25 and hope everyone folds, and that is what happens most of the time.

However, from time to time one of the initial limpers or someone yet to act will reraise to $75 or so. Once this happens, it should be clear that A-Q, A-J, and perhaps even a hand as strong as Q-Q are in bad shape and should be folded.

The truth is that many recreational players simply cannot make the disciplined fold. They do not properly understand the reraiser’s range and how behind they are. Instead, they call to see the flop (or go all-in, resulting in them drawing thin for their entire stack).

With hands like A-J and A-Q, you will find that you are usually dominated by the player who re-raised to $75. This usually leads to you either folding to a flop bet when you miss, winning a small pot when you hit, or losing your entire stack when you happen to flop top pair but still have the worst hand.

Suppose the flop comes Q-6-3. A-Q is not a foldable hand on this board, resulting in you losing your entire stack when you are against the somewhat likely A-A, K-K, or Q-Q, while only winning a tiny pot against A-K.

On a flop like A-8-6, you can lose your stack to A-A and A-K, or win a small pot from K-K and Q-Q.

On a flop of 8-5-2, you lose by folding to a continuation bet.

That is a lot of losing and not much winning to make up for it.

So the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, instead of making a gigantic preflop raise and then calling the reraise, you should make a smaller preflop raise. This will result in your opponents sticking around with much wider ranges. Ranges that you are in excellent shape against.

While you will get outdrawn more often, you will also keep your opponents in the pot with many inferior hands that your normally-strong hands like A-J crush. This strategy requires you to play well after the flop, but with study and experience, you will find this works out much better for you in the long run than forcing your opponents to fold their junk.

Don’t play scared! And try to remember the upside of keeping players in the pot whenever you have a good hand. ♠

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 PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.