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Avoid This Massive Blunder

by Jonathan Little |  Published: May 01, 2024

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Jonathan Little If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out Jonathan Little’s elite training site at PokerCoaching.com/CardPlayer.

I was recently told about a hand from a $2-$5 no-limit hold’em cash game that illustrates a few flaws in many small-stakes players’ strategies.

With a $1,100 effective stack, Hero raised to $35 from second position at a nine-handed table with KClub Suit QClub Suit.

While raising with KClub Suit QClub Suit is the ideal play, Hero raised much too large. Your preflop raises should usually be sized between two and four big blinds, or $10 to $20 at $2-$5. When you choose a gigantic size, you force your opponents to fold all but their absolute best hands, many of which dominate K-Q.

Of course, if the players in your game are extreme calling stations who will call 7-big blind raises with hands like K-5, Q-7, and 6-4, perhaps raising gigantic is ideal. That said, I have never played in a game so extreme, and I think many players over-exaggerate their impression of the poor quality of their opponents’ strategies.

The button and the big blind called. The flop came ASpade Suit 10Club Suit 7Club Suit, giving Hero a flush draw and a gutshot straight draw to Broadway. The big blind checked, and Hero bet $40 into the $107 pot.

Hero should usually bet larger in this spot, perhaps $85. He wants to grow the pot such that he can steal more money on the later streets when he misses, while also winning more when he improves to a straight or flush.

The button raised to $125 and the big blind folded.

Depending on what Hero thinks about the button’s strategy, he should either call or reraise.

In general, you should apply aggression with your best hands and your high-equity draws, meaning that if Hero wants to have a reraising range for value (with A-A, 10-10, 7-7, and A-10), he should reraise with some of his draws if he wants to remain balanced. While 9Club Suit 8Club Suit and other marginal flush draws make the most sense to reraise as bluffs because they have no chance to win if they fail to improve, KClub Suit QClub Suit, KClub Suit JClub Suit, and QClub Suit JClub Suit also make sense.

I would have made it $375 and been willing to call an all-in. I recognize that Hero could be against the nut flush draw and top pair, but the odds of that are quite low, given Hero’s gigantic preflop raise would usually make AClub Suit 9Club Suit and worse hands fold, leaving only AClub Suit JClub Suit in the opponent’s range.

Hero called. The turn was the 5Club Suit, improving Hero to a flush. Hero checked.

Hero’s check is excellent because if he leads, most competent opponents will only call with flushes, which should be almost none of the opponent’s range, and sets, which still have draws to the nuts.

The big blind bet $165 into the $357 pot.

This is a tough spot due to the big blind’s small bet size. Hero would love to play for all the money, but if he check-raises, his opponent will usually fold most hands worse than sets. That said, I think check-raising is still the best play because most of the big blind’s non-flush hands will check behind on the river, meaning the only way Hero can get value is to check-raise the turn or lead the river (which looks quite strong).

Notice that reraising the flop would have sidestepped this difficult spot while, at worse, getting all-in “flipping” against a premium made hand.

Hero called. The river was the ADiamond Suit, making Hero’s hand much worse. Hero led all-in for $805 into the $687 pot.

This is where Hero really messed up. His all-in lead pretty much forces all worse hands (trips and busted draws) to fold, while forcing all better hands (full houses) to call. Any bet is almost always strictly bad when that is the case. Hero should have instead checked, looking to reluctantly check-call a bet.

The big blind thought for a while before folding AHeart Suit QHeart Suit, one of the hands Hero wanted to get called by.

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Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT winner and the 2024 PokerGO Cup champion with nearly $9 million 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.