Maximizing marginal top pairs

ace-queenheartsIn December of 2014, I had the pleasure of traveling to Prague for both the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour events. Compared to the players in the United States, European players are generally much more aggressive. The following hand, from a €1,000 buy-in event, beautifully illustrates how to take advantage of these aggressive players without opening yourself up to losing a bunch of chips when they happen to have a premium hand.

The blinds were 75/150. A relatively tight, aggressive kid who seemed to play a straightforward strategy raised to 400 from first position out of his 20,000 effective chip stack. The player in 3rd position, a splashy, somewhat wild French guy, called. I decided to call with Ah-Qh in the cutoff seat. While most players would reraise before the flop, I called because I would be quite unhappy if the initial raiser continued in the pot because I expected him to only raise with premium hands from first position. Calling also has the added benefit of ensuring I get to see a flop in position with a disguised hand against the wild player.

The flop came As-6d-2h. The initial raiser checked, which probably means he missed the flop or has an underpair, such as K-K or 9-9. The French guy bet 1,000 into the 1,425 pot. I decided to call. Calling allows me to easily fold if the initial raiser decides to check-raise while also forcing the French guy to continue to the turn with a likely wide range. While raising both for value and to protect my hand from various draws may seem like the most obvious play, it allows the French guy to fold his marginal hands I have crushed, such as A-4 or 6-5. The last thing I want to do is allow the French guy to get off the hook with hands that are drawing thin. As expected, the initial raiser folded.

The turn was the (As-6d-2h)-3c. The French guy bet again, this time 1,800 into the 3,425 pot. I decided to call because, as on the flop, I feared that if I raised, he would be able to easily fold most worse hands. That being said, raising may have a bit of merit because my opponent may view a marginal hand, such as A-9, as the nuts and pile his stack into the pot. However, since I would have no clue how to proceed if he reraised or even called, I think calling is by far the best play.

The river was the (As-6d-2h-3c)-6h. My opponent quickly bet 3,200 into the 7,025 pot. Even though I could easily be crushed, I also beat a lot of hands, primarily worse top pairs. I made the easy call. I was surprised to see my opponent turn up 10-8 offsuit for absolutely nothing.

If I raised at any point throughout this hand, either my opponent would have folded his hand that was drawing dead or applied a huge amount of pressure, perhaps resulting in me making a snug fold with my strong, but not premium hand. By calling, I forced him to stay in the pot out of position with a hand that was drawing dead, which is always an excellent result. I also gave him the opportunity to bluff off a lot of chips, which fortunately for me, he did. The next time you find yourself in a pot with a strong, but not premium, made hand, consider calling instead raising, especially against players who are capable of attempting a bluff.

2013 World Series of Poker $10K Main Event Final TableIt is important that you get well out of line in order to take advantage of the mistakes that you think your opponent is likely to make. If you fail to see what is likely to happen ahead of time, you will not be able to properly adjust. If you try to play a solid default strategy against everyone, you are certainly leaving a ton of money on the table. For a more thorough analysis of how to get well out of line in order to exploit your opponent’s tendencies, such as bluffing too often or playing too passively, be sure to check out my best-selling book, Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Tournaments.

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