I was recently reviewing the hands of one of my new students who plays primarily $1-$2 and $1-$3 no-limit cash games in live casinos, when this interesting spot came up. At $1-$3, everyone folded to the hijack, a decent loose, aggressive player who raised to $18 out of his $215 effective stack. The button folded and my student called from the small blind with A 8.
While this call may seem standard to most players, it is actually a substantial mistake. Especially from out of position, you have to be careful calling large raises with any hand due to your poor position.
When you flop a premium hand, you will have a difficult time extracting value, and when you flop a marginal hand, your opponent gets to decide how much money goes into the pot. My student should have either folded, which is a perfectly fine option. Or he could have three-bet, taking control of the pot.
To make this point clearer, imagine the flop came K-7-4. If you three-bet before the flop with A 8 and continuation bet this flop, your opponent will almost certainly fold unless he improved to at least a pair, which will only happen about 35% of the time.
By playing aggressively, you will win many pots where you have the worst hand. Compare this to what happens when you just call your opponent’s preflop raise. You will check the K-7-4 flop, your opponent will bet, and then you will fold. This will result in your opponent stealing pots from you.
I understand that playing aggressively may be uncomfortable at first, but you simply must learn to apply aggression if you want to succeed at poker. Be sure to check out the courses on bluffing at my training site PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.
This time, the flop came A K J, giving my student top pair with a weak kicker. My student checked, the hijack bet $30 into the $39 pot, and my student called.
This is the exact type of flop that my student does not want to see. He often has the best hand, but if significant money goes into the pot, he is usually crushed. While I am fine with the flop check/call, this situation will usually become quite nasty by the river.
The turn was the 7. My student checked, the hijack bet $40 into the $99 pot, and my student called.
At this point, I think making a tight fold is the correct play. Notice there are very few value hands that a competent player would bet in the hijack’s spot that my student beats. The best my student can hope for is that the hijack is betting with a slightly worse made hand like A-5 or K-Q, or perhaps that he is completely bluffing with a hand like 10-9.
Instead of only focusing on the hands you beat, you should also look for hands that would bet in this manner that you lose to. Here, there are many hands that A-8 loses to.
The river was the 5. My student checked, the hijack bet $50 into the $179 pot, and my student called.
Despite the excellent pot odds, I am again not a fan of the call. The only hands that my student beats at this point are vastly overvalued marginal made hands (which many competent players would not bet) and total bluffs. I also do not think many players would make this river bet size as a bluff, although perhaps some will.
This time, the hijack turned up A-Q, awarding him a nice pot. In most small- and medium-stakes games, when someone bets on the flop, turn, and river, you should assume they have a reasonable value hand unless you have a great reason to believe otherwise. ♠
Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.