A common mistake some players make is to slow play with hands that are strong, but vulnerable to being outdrawn.
In general, if your premium hand can somewhat easily be outdrawn, you should play it aggressively. You also want to apply aggression so you can get a lot of money in the pot as a clear favorite. Slow playing often results in you getting outdrawn and/or playing a small pot, both of which are terrible outcomes.
The following hand from a $1-$3 cash game with a $300 effective stack illustrates this point. An unknown player limped in (just called the $3 big blind) from the cutoff. The player on the button, we will refer to him as Hero, called with A 5 as well. Both blinds elected to see a cheap flop.
While I am fine with Hero’s preflop limp, I would usually raise in this spot, especially if I thought the cutoff’s limp was a clear sign of weakness. From late position, almost all players raise with their best hands, meaning that when they limp, they usually have marginal hands. While A 5 is not too far ahead of the cutoff’s range, taking the initiative and applying aggression will allow Hero to steal the pot on flops where both players fail to improve.
The flop came 4 3 2. The small blind checked and the big blind, another unknown player, bet $7 into the $12 pot. Only Hero called.
I do not like Hero’s call. There are numerous bad turns for him that will either give his opponent the best hand or make it difficult to get paid off. While Hero’s flopped straight is quite strong, it is vulnerable to being outdrawn, making a raise ideal.
Also, when playing with 100 big blind stacks in limped pots, it is mandatory that you raise with your best hands in order to build the pot such that you can reasonably get your entire stack (or most of your stack) in by the river. If the pot on the flop was larger (because there was a preflop raise or three-bet), calling would be acceptable.
Consider how the money will likely go in when Hero just calls the flop. On the turn, the big blind may bet $18 into the $26 pot and on the river, he may be $32 into the $62 pot. That leaves a large amount of unused money in Hero’s stack. If Hero raises the flop to $20 and the big blind calls, he can then bet $40 on the turn and $100 on the river, getting much more money in the pot. Of course, raising may result in everyone folding and Hero winning a tiny pot, but that is the risk you have to take if you want to be able to play large pots with your best hands.
One additional benefit to your opponents folding to flop raises is that you can start mixing in semi-bluffs with non-made hands like Q 9 and 7 5.
The turn was the 9. The big blind bet $20 into the $26 pot and Hero called.
While I hate the flop call, I merely dislike the turn call because in small-stakes games, turn raises are primarily made by players who have premium hands. As on the flop, Hero’s goal should be to play for all his money while also protecting his hand against all the possible draws. By just calling, he makes it nearly impossible to get all-in on the river. Again, notice that if Hero raises the turn to $55, he can then reasonably bet $110 on the river, which would be a fine result.
The river was the J. The big blind checked, and Hero bet $45 into the $66 pot. The big blind called. Hero was overjoyed to win the $156 pot.
I like this river bet. There are numerous hands that can call a sizable value bet, plus there are a ton of potential busted draws, making a large bet the best option.
Going back to my flop and turn complaints, by only calling on those streets, Hero missed out on an additional $60 or more on the river. While many players are happy whenever they win a nice pot, they should instead ask themselves if there was a realistic way to win more. In this situation, raising the flop would have likely led to an even larger victory for Hero. ♠
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.