I recently played an interesting hand in a €2,200 event in Prague that demonstrates a concept you must master if you want to succeed at poker. Up until this hand, my day was going decently well. I had chipped up to 25,000 from my 12,000 starting stack with no significant confrontations. You will find that the biggest winners in tournament poker typically win (steal) lots of small pots that don’t belong to them, and that was exactly what I was doing leading up to this pot.

At 150/300 blinds with a 25 ante, everyone folded to a loose, splashy kid in the cutoff who called 300 out of his 25,000 stack. While you typically don’t see much limping in the high stakes games, this player was limping somewhat often, likely with marginal hands he thought were not strong enough to raise. The button folded and I decided to call 150 more from the small blind with Qh-8s due to my amazing pot odds. The big blind checked.

The flop came Qd-Jc-3s. If there was a preflop raise, I would usually check, but in a limped pot, I prefer to bet because if I check, it is reasonably likely that both of my opponents will check, and if one of them does bet, my hand isn’t strong enough to check-raise. So, I bet 700 into the 1,125 pot. The big blind folded and the button thought for a while before raising to 2,500. That isn’t what I wanted to see! I convinced myself that there were enough straight draws on the board, combined with the fact that my opponent may have viewed my lead as weak, to justify a call with the intention of check-calling most turn bets on all turns besides an Ace or King.

The turn was the (Qd-Jc-3s)-Qc, giving me trips. That is exactly what I wanted to see! I decided to check, expecting my opponent to continue bluffing with all of his draws, perhaps only checking behind with a Jack. Unfortunately, he checked behind. Had he bet, I would have only called, opting to check-call most river bets. While I almost certainly have the best hand, if I check-raise on either the turn or river and get called, I will usually be crushed by a better made hand.

The river was the (Qd-Jc-3s-Qc)-6d, a complete blank. I bet 7,000 into the 6,125 pot, hoping my opponent would assume I was trying to steal the pot with a busted draw. My opponent instantly called and I proudly turned my hand face-up, fully expecting to win the pot, only to watch it be pushed the opposite direction when my opponent tabled Qs-10c, trips with a better kicker.

Although I lost a large chunk of my chips with this hand, it certainly could have been worse. If my opponent simply bet the turn and the river, he would have won significantly more chips from me. From my opponent’s point of view, when I called his flop raise, my range was almost certainly a Queen, which Q-10 usually beats, a Jack, which Q-10 crushes, or a draw. Most of these hands will be willing to call any reasonably sized turn bet. If I check-called the turn, my opponent could then make a sizable bet on the river to represent a range consisting of trips and busted draws, hoping to induce a call from a Jack or better. By checking the turn, my opponent cost himself a huge pot.

Don’t make the mistake of slow playing when your opponent almost certainly has strong (but second-best) hand you crush.

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20 Comments

  • Matt says:

    A somewhat tricky spot as you have called 150 more from the SB with a very marginal hand. Villain probably did put you on a queen when you called his flop raise but he may have had kicker concerns. Would you have raised preflop from the SB with AQ or KQ? Probably, so maybe the only hand he thought my you may be holding post flop was QJ which would have had him crushed and is a very real possibility given the limped pot and you pre flop call. However, if he assumes you hold a queen with any other kicker then yes, he should have bet for value on the turn, without question.

  • Wayne Connors says:

    Hi Jonathan, I’d like your feedback. I played the WPT at Borgata last week (1,132 entries) and it down to 69 players, blinds $5,000/$10,000. There a was preflop raise to $50k. I had $175k left and got pocket Jacks on the button. I chose to only call, leaving me $125k. The big blind went all in for over $200k. I thought I should fold, but with only 12 big blinds left I decided to call. He had pocket Aces and knocked me out. Did I do the right thing?

    • Don’t fold JJ with a 17 big blind stack! If anything, I would have pushed all-in over the initial raise because you will often play poorly after the flop in a single raised pot. For example, when it comes A-x-x and you face a continuation bet, you will often have to fold to multiple streets of aggression.

  • Jason N says:

    Thanks for the analysis Jonathan. Just for context, I’m a beginner microstakes player who’s been studying + playing for about a year now. I think my default reaction when I bet top pair or weak kicker on a flop and face a reraise or a check-raise, I usually will just fold without thinking too much about the board texture.

    (Qd-Jc-3s) – Here you mentioned that there were a reasonable amount of draws on this board, flush draws, KT, T9 for OESD, so does that mean in general you will choose to fold top pair weak kicker facing a reraise on a dry board? let’s say the board was Q77 and you faced a reraise. Does this make you more likely to fold?

    • You should be more inclined to stick around with your decent one pair hands on draw-heavy boards because you are more likely to be against a draw that you beat. On Q77, it is more likely that you are beat, although you may be against a player who raises hands like A-J or 8-8, thinking they are “good” at the moment. Poker is tough!

  • Chris says:

    That last line “Don’t make the mistake of slow playing when your opponent almost certainly has strong (but second-best) hand you crush” is something to memorize. The only thing wrong with this post is the picture at the top: It´s definitely not Prague. Looks to me like Budapest..

  • Jeff says:

    Great Advice.
    A big leak in my game.
    Now I have a note in my back pocket with my most common leaks that I look at during a tournament.
    Played with Sorel Mizzi recently.
    Had a conversation about slow playing.
    He said, “Do not slow play. Other players
    do not believe you have anything anyway”.
    One question for you poker wizard.
    Do you fold pocket jacks heads up to a
    shove in the big blind from a crazy player.
    I opened in early position.
    We both have 50 big blinds.
    I folded like a little girl.
    You could still re enter small tourny
    I know you would call (probably)
    Let me know.
    You are the best.
    I am friends with Deepinder Singh.
    One of your students.

    • Jeff says:

      I just always lose with jacks heads up for my tournament life.
      Now I call shoves with ace king, queens kings and aces only (if it is for 50 bigs and under pre flop).
      Same thing I do when I have 25 bigs or under I three bet shove with those hands.
      I do not do this with jacks anymore.

    • It depends on the specific opponent, but I would tend to call off.

  • Mika Hämäläinen says:

    Thank you for sharing these hands, I think these provide invaluable insight to high-stakes tournaments.

    I’m no expert, but if he thinks you mostly call his flop reraise with a Q, what does he think your kicker is that he can beat? If we discount having the same hand, he’s probably behind or dead (at least on the turn) and thus checking to pot control, unless he thinks you might limp with any suited Q. I don’t have Flopzilla here to compare your hard-to-tell limping ranges, but don’t you think limping ranges are usually very fluid and player-specific anyways? I mean that some players might elect to limp JJ some of the time, but then again, I don’t play €2,2k’s =)

    P.S. Obviously he’s not folding to a ~psb, but had you shoved, do you think he might have folded? His loose image might compel him to call since he might think you are playing against his image by shoving. I’m not saying shoving is a good play here with trips and a bad kicker, just noting the possibility.

    P.P.S. Would you have reraised the river if you were the villain in this hand?

    • You seem to be focusing on my exact hand and not my range. I would certainly like to see free rivers with all my draws. Checking behind on the turn allows me to see realize all my equity with my draws, which is a disaster.

      I would not try to bluff my opponent off trips. That makes no sense in this spot, given his range should have lots of draws.

      I am fine with my opponent’s river call, especially given my polarizing bet size.

  • Slim Shady says:

    Thanks for sharing. If you were him, what size bet do you make on the turn and the river that your opponent, holding Q8 would call? If he bets 2/3 pot on turn or around 4,000, do you check/call? If yes, if he fires 2/3 pot on the river or 9,000, would you call with Q8, leaving you with only 30BB? What size bet would it take for you to lay down trip Qs with 8 kicker? He ended up getting 40% of your stack with Q10o, so it’s hard to see that he left much value on the table, but maybe he did?

    • I would have likely bet something close to the size of the pot on the turn and then made a big bet, perhaps all-in, on the river. It is sooooo easy for him to have lots of draws. I would certainly not fold my hand once I make it to the turn as it is one of the best hands in my range.

  • Ilya says:

    I agree with Mika. QJ /QK are definitely possibilities for a small blind call as you are out of position. Even JJ is possible to induce a shove from a “splashy” player. Given that range Q10 is a calling, not a raising hand imo; if he raised on the turn and was called, raised on the river and you shove he would have a very difficult time calling. You do a great job Jonathan and thank you for everything. Any further thoughts would be most appreciated.

  • dutch25 says:

    Wouldn’t Top Pair with an OK kicker be considered a marginal made hand that we would check post flop out of position? Would we bet all of our Queens considering the position and opponents (except AQ and KQ which we’re probably raising pre?)

  • Marshall Burns says:

    While I agree that the splashy kid made a mistake by checking the turn, I believe the biggest mistake in this hand was your lead out on the flop. You say you “prefer to bet because if I check, it is reasonably likely that both of my opponents will check, and if one of them does bet, my hand isn’t strong enough to check-raise.” True, a check-raise on the flop is unwarranted with top pair/weak kicker, but what is wrong with check-calling on the flop? Not only does this serve as pot control, but it protects your checking range when you have not flopped top pair.

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