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Winning Hands: Getting Paid With Top Set

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Feb 08, 2023


Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at

In 2019, I published FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, a 42-chapter book covering all of the basic concepts behind being a winning tournament player, as well as many of the more advanced strategies. This book could be compared to the lecture portion of my seminars. I have been working on a second book, however, and thought it should more resemble the live hand labs.

For this book, I will go through several dozen hands I have played and break down each decision along the way. Although not yet finished, I thought it would be fun to provide excerpts of some of those hands here for Card Player readers.

It is the first hand after dinner break of day 1 of the World Series of Poker Double Stack event. Blinds are 200-400 with a 50 ante, and I’m in the small blind with JSpade Suit JDiamond Suit and a strong stack of 46,000.

The player under-the-gun min-raises to 800 out of his 20,000 stack and gets a call from the cutoff. I reraise to 3,200 and only the UTG player calls. The flop is the exceptional JClub Suit 8Heart Suit 5Diamond Suit.

I bet 2,500, he calls, and we see the 7Spade Suit on the turn. I bet again, 5,000 this time, and he calls, leaving himself with just over 9,000.

On the 10Spade Suit river, I bet enough to put him all in. He calls, and I knock him out of the event, as he has 10Diamond Suit 10Heart Suit for a losing set on the river, and a lucky card for me.

As a means of mixing up your play, you want to occasionally call preflop with a very strong hand like J-J. However, reraising should be your standard line, as you want to either get the others to fold, or pay more to outdraw your hand, which is very likely in the lead. You are also building a pot, and can potentially win more when your strong hand holds up.

Even though jacks are one of the best starting hands, there will be at least one overcard on the flop most of the time. Even when the presence of this card(s) doesn’t beat you, it will very possibly slow you down. Thus, you will often be in a spot where you are either beat, or winning less than otherwise. Might as well build a pot preflop to potentially win more when your strong hand holds up.

Now that we have raised and gotten it heads-up, we catch a perfect flop. While there are a couple of possible draws out there, it is a very dry flop, and our only real thought should be how do we get the most chips possible into this pot?

As usual, we should only slowplay, even a flop this strong and this safe, if we believe that is the best way to maximize the pot. Here, if our opponent has a hand they think might be best, we want to bet now, before a card comes that slows them down. If they have a pair, this is the perfect time to bet, in case the turn or river brings an overcard that slows them down. If they have a big card type of hand, specifically A-K, A-Q, or K-Q, they still have hope of being ahead at the moment.

While it is true that checking and letting them catch top pair on the turn will increase our chances of winning the maximum, it is also true that if another card comes out that misses them, they are even more likely to give up on this pot.

As I raised to 3,200 preflop, my typical continuation bet, against one opponent, is a slightly larger bet, e.g., 3,300. In this case, because of stack sizes, I bet smaller. My opponent started with 20,000, and had less than 17,000 left. The pot was 8,250. I want to size my bet in a way that might convey weakness, and I also want to leave enough room for them to think a shove might get me to fold. While I didn’t get the raise I had hoped for, I did at least get a call.

The turn made a few straights possible while adding a lot more straight draws. I wanted to bet again, both to avoid giving a free card, and to get more chips into the pot now, in case the next card killed my action. I wanted to bet an amount that seemed reasonable, but again, small enough to give them hope that a shove might get me to fold.

I picked 5,000 as the amount to accomplish these goals. While it should be harder for the opponent to think I would fold to a raise, it is still not impossible. What would I do, for example, if he shoved now and I had a hand like A-K or A-Q, or a small pocket pair? Many players would fold those hands in my spot. Again, he didn’t raise, but did at least call.

At this point, the pot is now over 23,000, and my opponent had only a bit over 9,000 in his stack. The river was a horrible card for me, as it puts four to a straight on the board. A lot of players would check their set here. However, if he bets, I’m never going to fold.

To me, the only question is what is the best way to get the rest of his chips in the pot on those occasions he doesn’t have a nine? Unless a check by me will induce a bluff. That is the real question. Is it more likely he has a hand that can’t call, but with which he will bluff, or a hand that he won’t bet, but will call my bet?

Luckily, I was right in my read, and he caught a set that was no good on the river. Although I am pretty sure he would have called my bet on the end almost no matter what the river card had been, except maybe an ace or possibly a king.

Have fun, and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.