Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: How To Feel Good About Losing With Top Set

Jonathan LittleI was playing in a $10-$20 no-limit hold’em cash game at the Bellagio when an interesting hand came up. I had just got to the table, so my reads were based purely on generic assumptions. When that happens, I will generally not make any significant decisions based on those assumptions.

A tight, aggressive player with $2,000 raised to $80 from first position. A good tight, aggressive player with $10,000 called in second position. There was a player in middle position who also had $10,000, who was unknown to me, and he also called. I had $10,000 as well, and looked down to find the nice 8Diamond Suit 8Club Suit in the small blind.

I decided to call. Both three-betting and folding do not have much merit. Folding would be way too tight, and three-betting against a first-position raiser who should have a tight range with a hand that has large implied odds from out of position is almost always a mistake.

I cannot conceive a deep stacked situation where I would three-bet a first position raiser with pocket eights. It is simply not a good play. When you can see a relatively cheap flop with a hand that has large implied odds, you should tend to call, especially if you do not expect to get three-bet too often.

The player in the big blind, also with $10,000, announced that he was calling in the dark because he didn’t think he could fold anything due to his amazing pot odds. The big blind was clearly a recreational player, but I was unsure if he was goofing around or not.

Some players actually think they have to call with any two cards when getting reasonable pot odds. They are not concerned with the number of players in the pot or the fact that junky hands like K-5 offsuit will realize their equity poorly against multiple players. Other players like to say asinine things at the table that should be ignored. To be clear though, you should not call with any two cards in this spot.

The flop came 8Heart Suit 7Heart Suit 5Club Suit, giving me top set. I checked.

While I could lead into my opponents, I thought that one of my three opponents would bet on this flop a high percentage of the time, allowing me to check-raise to a large amount, as I would do with my best made hands, some premium draws, and some junky draws. I do not like leading in this spot because most players will play fairly well, calling with overpairs and draws while folding everything else. If a bet will induce your opponents to play well, you should choose a different action.

The big blind and the initial raiser checked. The player in second position bet $300 into the $400 pot and the middle position called. I was already counting the money that was about to be in my stack!

Sticking with my plan, I check-raised to $1,300. I thought this bet size would make my opponents think I wanted to get some fold equity, which may induce them to make a huge blunder with an overpair or a marginal draw.

The big blind thought for forever and then folded, and to my surprise, the initial raiser went all-in for $620 on top of my $1,300 bet. The other players folded and I happily called. The board ran out ASpade Suit KDiamond Suit, which I was not happy about because I assumed my opponent had A-A, K-K, or a draw. Sure enough, he showed KClub Suit KHeart Suit and won the pot. Bad beat!

As a brief aside, it should be clear that the K-K had a super easy fold when facing a bet, a call, and a check-raise. Even if there was a $300 bet and two callers, K-K should probably fold. You must realize that an overpair is a fairly weak holding when there is a lot of post-flop action on a coordinated board. Of course, I was happy he called. When your opponents make errors, you should be happy, whether or not you win the pot.

After the hand, the big blind claimed he folded 6Diamond Suit 4Diamond Suit, the bottom end of the straight (which he apparently showed one of the other players). The big blind started defending his play, saying that he thought I either had a set, a strong draw, or the nut straight, which is likely a correct assumption. He said that he did not want to gamble because $10,000 was a lot of money to him.

I later found out that he had bought in for $1,000 and ran it all the way up to $10,000. While I didn’t know it at the time because I was new to the table, this player was an extreme example of someone who was playing scared. He flopped the effective nuts and still did not want to put his stack in where his main opponent (me) almost certainly does not have the nuts (because I would fold 9-6 suited preflop).

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are afraid to get all-in with what is almost certainly the best hand, you should pick up your chips and leave as soon as possible.

Even though I got unlucky to lose to the pocket kings, it could have been a lot worse if the big blind stuck around because I certainly would have lost $8,000 more. When you can make the best hand fold and the worst hand call, you simply must view that as a success. ♠

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




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