The Best Play With Top Pair

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Top pair can be confusing. Do you play it fast, slow, cautiously, or balls to the wall? In this video we’ll explore which play is best with top pair. I’ve you rarely check-raise TPTK in your games, this is a must-have skill that you need to add into your playbook.

POSITION: UTG+2
STAKE: $1/$3 Live
HAND: AQo

In this hand, we have a limp by seat 4, Tony (hero in this hand) decides to attack, and obviously happy that we’re attacking, but unshocking. My main gripe is going to be with the size here. If we’re going to isolate a limper, I’d much prefer it be between $15 and $20 here. I think only going to $10 is giving seat 4 a great price. And it’s not creating the situation that you want in a situation that AQ is going to perform best in. So because of that, raise the price up a little bit and make that improvement in the future.

As called, get played by the aggro-fish, get called by the passive fish, and seat 4 folds. That’s kind of weird. Would not have expected that, but it is what it is.

In this situation, Tony writes in the write up that:

“The aggro-fish, the player on the button, is a very aggressive player who can fire multiple bullets until the river with air.”

On the flop, we flop top pair, top kicker. Always fun. Check, hero checks, bet for $17, call, check-raise. Tony, you can’t see it right now, but I have my hand very, very high, and I’m offering you a big high five. Congratulations. I absolutely love this check-raise. So few people do it, but this is really well-done. High five, Tony.

Now, if you’re the kind of player that would never check-raise here, don’t worry, you’re not alone, but I want to explain to you why I love this so, so much. So if we go back to the flop, and hero is sitting here, yes, it is default and normal for the average person to c-bet here. You have top pair, top kicker. You have people that will continue with second best hands. Yes, the default is to go for a c-bet probably in the $20 to $25 range. Okay, fine. That’s the standard default play. But what does a check accomplish?

Well, the button is an aggro-fish, someone who’s most likely going to bet whenever check to them, right? We all know that kind of player. And a lot of people, they don’t even consider checking to these kind of players when they have big hands. They just stay in their default: “Well, I’m just going to bet because I have top pair, top kicker.” Okay, but you could be leaving additions to your bankroll on the table. You may not be optimizing your line.

In this situation, if we check here, the aggressive fish is most likely going to bet a pretty large chunk of the time. Great. They’re going to bet with all sorts of hands, some hands that beat us and tons that of course don’t.

Now, when the passive fish calls, this just allows us to make more money from them when they get into their calling mode. Because if we had just c-bet here for $20 or $25, the aggro-fish calls, passive fish calls as well, okay, what is that really doing? We got some money from them, but we certainly didn’t get $75 in on the flop against them, and that’s something that’s really sexy and attractive to me because I want to get the passive fish to put in as much money right now as possible with 9X, with 78, with JT, with QT, with all of those second best combos.

Am I going to get my butt kicked when he has Q9s? You bet. Am I that worried about it? No, not even close. So because of that, I love the check-raise here. This takes advantage of someone who needs to bet every single time it’s checked to them. It allows me to build an even bigger pot against both of these players. And you know what? The average person is going to assume you have JT here, or they’re going to assume you have AK and don’t know what you’re doing here. They’re rarely going to put you on something like AQ or KK or any of those kind of hands. They can make a lot of mistakes against that. Of course, that’s a great thing for you.

I really like the check-raise. Now, as played, we end up getting called in both spots. Cool. So, essentially, against the button, we have a single potter left. Okay, that’s nice and easy. Against the passive fish, we can get the stacks in very easily going into the turn and river. So this is a situation that I’m very, very excited about. Even more so, when the turn is a brick deuce.

When the passive fish checks, hero decides to lead $400, and, unfortunately, I’m right back to having a problem. You know, if I’m being totally honest, I hate being a negative Nancy. I understand that in these videos, I kind of have to be a decent chunk of the time. But I loved the intention with preflop, I loved the check-raise on the flop, and then to see it followed up with this bet size is really, really unfortunate. So I don’t want to check here and allow the aggro-fish to check behind at this point because they’ve already got an aggress, so I don’t think that they’re going to bet everything in their range if we check to them on the turn.

I want to keep the betting lead myself and make sure the money goes in and we maximize value against sticky 9X, worst QX, JT, 78, all those kind of hands. I don’t just want to let free cards roll off for no reason. That being said, my question in my head at this point is, “Okay, will $100 get lucked out by second best, will $150, will $200, will $250, etc., etc. A $100, yeah, I think I’m getting lucked out by second best hands, but I also think that’s true for $150, $175, $200.

Maybe if you shove here, you don’t get lucked out by the passive fish when they have JT or 98, but I think more often than not, you could go to something like $180 and get lucked out by plenty of second best. Fish love to draw incorrectly. They don’t understand pot odds. Use that to your advantage by sizing bigger when you have strong hands against their obvious second best calling range.

I don’t think you need to bet $100 here to maximize value. I think betting $100 here gives draws, gives single pairs too good of a price to draw out for no reason when you could otherwise go bigger and maximize value.

Again, I hate complaining about bet size. I know it’s one of the biggest gripes that I have whenever I review poker hands, but, seriously, it’s incredibly important. If you’re going to play no-limit, that’s one of the greatest areas where you can actually exercise a huge, huge edge is by improving your best sizing. I hate seeing people leave money on the table by making mistakes like this.

In this situation, get called in both spots. Okay, not super-shocking. River is an 8. That sucks. That improved Q8, 98, JT, and that’s pretty much about it. There’s still plenty of second best QX hands, but, again, did we create a bad situation for ourselves? Passive fish bets. Hero decides to bet again, only bets $100. Again, I don’t see what this is doing. If nothing else, I’m going to bet $153. I’m going to put the aggro-fish all-in. If he has a hand that sucked out on me, it sucks to be me. It’s not like I’m ever going to bet-fold for his last $53 if he does decide to rip it.

Again, I definitely want to make sure that I make more money against the passive fish when he has QJ and can’t fold. Or maybe he improved 78 and for whatever reason get super-sticky. There’s just second-best hands I can and will get looked up by that will pay more money, that will pay a premium price. So I don’t see $100 really doing anything. Again, I think this needs to be larger. If not, just shoving. Going all-in gives the passive fish about 3:1. Obviously, the aggro-fish, if they have anything, they’re continuing too, and you weren’t going to bet-fold anyway.

As played, we bet $100. They shove for the last $53. Obviously we snap it off. Unfortunately, they did improve on the river, but, again, this is more a function of choosing a really, really bad turn size and allowing really great odds to screw you. Had you bet the turn for a bigger price and they still continued with 89, you still lost the pot, at least you know that you took the right line. There’s nothing worse that sizing too small and inviting a bad beat that, again, you could have otherwise either maximized more value in the long run on, or just not felt really bad at all when you’re like, “Oh, crap. I kind of did that to myself.”

So, Tony, hopefully that helps you the next time you find yourself in a similar situation. Again, love the check-raise. I just think your preflop and your turn and your river sizing need a little bit of work. Again, improvements, increases and all of those, I think are going to massively benefit your strategy in the long run.

If you’re looking for your next step today, I am definitely going to suggest picking up Unfolding Poker. It’s a book I wrote earlier this year. And in it there are two major chapters that I want you to focus on. First is c-betting the flop in  heads up vs. multiway pots, exactly like this situation where we got here on the flop. And then also maximizing value against fish. Both of those chapters are really going to help you wrap your head around this, not just in single instance hands like here, but just in general and help you start formulating a strategy in those pots. It’s very, very important.

New Poker Book

If you pick up Unfolding, remember there is the audiobook version as well. You can get both the e-book and the audiobook. I’ll just leave a link in the description box. Check it out if that’s something you’re interested in learning more about. As always, if you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Otherwise, as always, I’ll see you back soon week with a brand new video, and in the meantime, good luck out there and happy grinding.

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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