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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Why You Need To Stop Raising With Top Pair

Two-Time WPT Champion Explains How To Play Marginal Made Hands

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Jonathan LittleI was recently told about a poker hand from a $2-$5 no-limit hold’em cash game that illustrates a critical error that many players make on a regular basis. A somewhat tight, passive player raised to $15 out of his $500 effective stack from middle position, and our Hero called on the button with KHeart Suit JHeart Suit.

I am fine with Hero’s preflop call. Suited Broadway cards can call a reasonably sized preflop raise in most situations. If Hero instead had KHeart Suit JSpade Suit, however, he should either three-bet to about $45 or fold, opting to fold most of the time due to the opponent’s tight, passive tendencies. You usually only want to call in position with hands that have the potential to make strong post-flop hands. Suited hands fit in this category because they will occasionally make a flush.

Everyone else folded, and the flop came KClub Suit 8Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit, giving Hero top pair. The opponent bet $30 into the $37 pot and Hero decided to raise to $100.

On the flop, Hero should definitely call. Notice that the only terrible turn card is an ace. Hero does not have to worry about 7-6 making a straight because most tight, passive players do not raise 7-6 suited from middle position. If the opponent does happen to have a hand like pocket queens through pocket nines, he is almost drawing dead. So, there is no need at all to raise for protection.

If Hero raises, many of the hands that he beats will fold, but if he calls, he forces his opponent to stay in the pot with many inferior hands, allowing him to make costly errors on the turn and river. Most importantly, when Hero happens to have the worst hand, calling will usually result in him losing less because the pot will be smaller.
The opponent re-raised all-in for $485 total.

At this point, it should be clear that Hero is in bad shape. I would be shocked if his opponent did not show one of K-K, 8-8, 5-5, A-A, or A-K essentially every time. When a generally straightforward player is clearly trying to get their stack in on the flop, you can be confident they have a premium made hand.

Hero decided to call (which is a terrible mistake) and lost to his opponent’s 8-8 for middle set.

After this hand, Hero was annoyed that he got “unlucky” that his opponent flopped three of a kind. In reality, Hero should have simply called the flop and turn, and likely folded to a third bet on the river from the tight, passive opponent.

While Hero is certainly going to lose some money in this situation, he lost way more than was necessary. If Hero called a $30 flop bet and a $75 turn bet, he would have lost $105 more. As played, he ended up losing his entire $485 stack.

When you have a marginal made hand (usually top pair with a marginal kicker, middle pair, bottom pair, or ace high), you should look to control the size of the pot. If the pot remains manageable, your marginal made hand is usually best, but if a significant amount of money goes into the pot, marginal made hands are usually in bad shape. ♠

Jonathan Little Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and best-selling poker author with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings. If you want to learn how to play fundamentally sound poker and increase your win rate, check out PokerCoaching.com. Click here to try PokerCoaching.com for free.