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Surviving a set up

by Jonathan Little |  Published: May 01, '17


set-trips-differenceThis hand played by one of my students illustrates a skill that you must master if you want to succeed at poker. Early in a $1,000 buy-in poker tournament with blinds at 25/50 with 18,000 effective stacks, my student (we will call him Hero) raised to 125 from second position with 4s-4d. Two players (the cutoff and hijack) called. While I am fine with Hero’s preflop raise with a small pair, I would prefer to make it a full 3 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.

The flop came 8c-5c-4h. Hero bet 350 into the 450 pot, the hijack raised to 1,200, the cutoff folded, and Hero called.

Hero’s continuation bet with a set is excellent because it builds the pot without looking obviously strong. Once the hijack raises, I think 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 and his opponent continues, either by calling or reraising, Hero will have essentially turned his set into a bluff catcher in a gigantic pot. The best play is to go into a defensive mode and simply call.

The turn was the (8c-5c-4h)-As. Hero checked, his opponent bet 2,800 into the 2,850 pot and Hero called.

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 allowing his opponent the opportunity to bluff. Notice 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 also not an option because Hero often has the best hand and when he happens to be against a straight, he has 10 clean outs to the effective nuts.

The river was the (8c-5c-4h-As)-7c. Both players checked and Hero lost to his opponent’s 7d-6d.

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 simply has to call a river bet because his hand is drastically underrepresented 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.

pc-imageWhile some players look at this loss and are unhappy, Hero played great to not go broke. Many amateurs 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.

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Jonathan Little is a two-time World Poker Tour champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings.

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