No-Limit: When to Call with Middle or Bottom Pair


No Limit

Seeing as I'm not able to help being the perennial shark at the table, my observant opponents largely realize that I show down strong cards and don't play too many draws. I essentially play a with a "flop it or fold it" strategy when I do play a hand, so players at the table often try to run over my tight-aggressive style on the flop.

If they see 3 rags come out on the flop, they realize that my hand, most likely, hasn't improved. They try to take control away from me, bet at the pot, and steal it right there. Even if my opponents aren't observant (as is most often the case with online players), they make the perfectly sound play of raising their hand preflop to limit the competition. When the flop looks harmless and doesn't appear to help anyone, they continue to bet and try to represent a big pocket pair.

Before I go any further, I don't want to discourage anyone from making this play, which can be referred to as a continuation bet. I regularly use this play against tighter opponents on the coral in real card lagoons and at a weak-tight online table. You can't use it too often or else you'll have a predictable style of play, but it is useful when you aren't up against a lot of opponents and you have position. Statistically, when your opponents make this play, they can't have a made hand as often as they represent. When they bet about of the pot to the full size of the pot on the flop, sometimes they will have a monster and you'll just have to analyze the texture of the flop. But if you're up against a player who you know makes this play a lot, you should consider staying in with your hand if you've caught a piece of it. A good strategy against a bully at the table is to call more often and, if you're anything like me, put the hammer down once in a while, shed your conservative table image, even if it costs you a row or two of teeth. Yours grow back every 24 hours too, right?

Poker Strategy for Middle or Bottom Pair

Through the magic of imagination, let's put ourselves in the middle of a sit 'n go tournament. The blinds have recently been increased to 50/100, and you have an average-sized stack. The chip leader is one of those obnoxious players that can't seem to settle down, tries to run over everyone, and ends up rivering the rest of the table time after time. He obviously doesn't require a real hand to call or raise. There are 7 players left, and you're in sixth position looking at 10-9 of spades. Our previously mentioned reckless octopus (As I've mentioned before, most octopi play just like this guy, so it's one of those times that you can brand a player before he plays a hand. Keep that in mind when one of the 8-legged fiends wants to come to your home game) raises the hand to 400 chips to go. He still has 3,500 left in his stack, and you're at about 1,500. While everyone else at the table is quickly intimated and folds, you decide that this is a good enough hand to take a stand. You figure that the blinds will fold, which they do. It's just you and the octopus on the flop.

You're heads-up on the flop, which brings 4c, Jd, 9h. You've caught a piece of the flop - middle pair. The pot has 950 chips in it (your 400, his 400, and the blinds), and true to form, your opponent bets out 500 chips. Most weak-tight players view this as an automatic fold, since he could have a Queen or an overpair. That's not a very likely holding, given his betting patterns throughout the tournament. It's always possibly, but I wouldn't put him on it very easily. If he did actually catch a hand, especially a monster, I would expect him to slowplay it more often. In this hand, I suggest calling with the pair of 9s. I would want to see what comes on the turn, and if he checks I would put in the rest of my stack. He could have you beaten, but I think that you've got the best hand with his check on the turn. He knows that you have something, and he's given up his steal attempt. You've seen him make this play very often throughout the tournament this far: he'll raise the timid players out of the pot and then keep betting when someone does call.

Most tight players will wait until they have a couple of big cards, and he knows that with when a raggedy flop comes, you'll have a tough time calling. These players aren't making a mistake to throw their hand away on the flop if they haven't hit. Why throw more money away without at least one pair? Where they made their mistake is before the flop. If they have a hand good enough to call the reckless player's raise, why not reraise? You might even go all-in with K-Q or better or any pair over 9-9. Opponents like this aren't looking for big confrontations and will usually fold to action before the flop. If they do call, you've probably got the better hand. So long as he doesn't put a bad beat on you, you've made a smart aggressive play without having to deal with his unreadable garbage on the flop.

As in the example hand, I suggest calling with less than top pair and not even a very good kicker. You shouldn't do this very often if you don't want to slowly leak away your chips, but if the conditions are right for the hand, you should consider sticking with it. This concept applies in any no-limit game. Favorable conditions to stay in with only a piece of the flop include when:

  • 1) A reckless or loose player has made the raise
  • 2) You have position on the raiser
  • 3) You're only facing one or two opponents
  • 4) You at least hit a pair on the flop
  • 5) It doesn't cost you much to call

Raising preflop and making a semi-bluff bet on the flop, even without improving, is a good play when you only have one or two opponents. Unfortunately, wild players often try this to pick up lots of small pots and increase their dominance over the table. You're going to run into this play, so you should know how to defend yourself against it.

I've also been getting drawn out a lot lately by the following situation that I've learned to smarten up about. I want you to play it more aggressively than I have. I know, the Hammerhead playing weak? I was playing after a long hunting session and I was tired, okay? I would pick up a pretty good hand like pocket 7s or 8s and just flat call it from middle position, hoping to flop a set. Usually I was only up against one or two opponents. The flop will come with one face card and two other small cards smaller than my pocket pair. One play would bet a very small probing bet and I would just call, pretty sure that I had the best hand. He would then check on the turn, and I would bet a probing amount in return. He would call this and hit either a set or two pair on the river. I had him beat until that last card.

Some quick observations of how you should play in that situation: consider a raise before the flop first of all. Even if you don't raise preflop, don't let him get away with a probing bet - raise it big! If you do just call and he checks on the turn, bet it big! Most likely, he folds and you win the pot. Don't be timid about this hand, since he has shown nothing but weakness so far. Assume you have the best hand until he shows you otherwise.

Normally, you want to flop a monster or at least top pair on the flop. However, tend to call more preflop and on the flop against table bullies. If they show weakness on the turn, snap them off. And don't forget, punish the probing bets until they show strength as they're usually unsure of their hand. Next time you're in the neighborhood, you should stop by my private home game and test your skills. We run it every Friday night, and you'll get to see all sorts of marine life trying their best to hold slivers of seaweed cards with their fins. It's lots of fun, and you're allowed one surface for air every hour. I'm sure you'll do great!

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