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.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you will love my interactive poker training site, There you can test yourself with over 100 interactive quizzes and study the game with me with monthly homework questions and review webinars. If you want to take your game to the next level, sign up for a FREE 7-day trial and see if is for you.


  • Nick Sublime says:

    Yep, I would have gone broke. Thinking that he raised on a flush draw (as most amateurs do), I may have called 1 time, but would have put significantly more in on the turn. One of my 3117 leaks. I’m getting there. Great blogs as usual JL.

  • Sandy Gibides says:

    I have all of your books on my IPod and listen to them over and over and they have changed my game for the better! I LOVE you latest on Bluffing!!! thanks for the great explanations! Sandy

  • Michael says:

    I had a similar situation to this happen today. I played it differently naturally, as I am still a newb. What follows is the 6th or 7th hand of the tourney. 25/50 Blinds. I was sitting UTG+3. I get dealt 6d-6s. UTG+2 limps, I raise 150. Folds around to BB who calls and UTG+2 calls. Flop comes 6c-Ad-As. Checks around to me and I make a continuation bet of 300 which is called by both. Turn comes 6c-Ad-As-Kc. BB raises 500, UTG+2 reraises 1000, I call. River comes 6c-Ad-As-Kc-9d. BB checks, UTG+2 raises 2000. I go all in, thinking this guy has K-J or 10-10 or maybe even an Ax. BB folds. Cards come out and the UTG+2 had Ks-Kh. WTF kind of poor play is that? Who limps with K-K and then stays in with that kind of flop? How could I have played it differently, what should I have done. Teach me oh great one!

    • I would certainly not raise the river. When you get called, you are almost certainly beat. Many players will fold Ax to a river raise. When your raise gets called, you will often be against a better full house.
      Some amateur players play K-K passively and are then unable to fold on somewhat safe flops like A-A-6 even when facing a bet and call.

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