No Limit Hold’em: Top Pair
On my recent excursions to the wonderful world that is online poker, I’ve noticed a common, but debilitating, mistake that most amateur players make. Too often I see inexperienced players overvaluing their pocket pairs and their top pairs. Since no limit hold’em is anything but forgiving, such errors will leave players wallowing in the virtual felt. We all love hitting the flop, and we are rarely inclined to lay pairs down. After all, we wait and wait for a playable hand so we can dive into the depths of the action. Since you only hit the flop about one third of the time, playing your pairs is becomes necessity. But here lies the pitfall; online players love to trap, especially in cash games. Since cash games offer no blind increases, people will wait around for pocket pairs, or suited connecters, that are looking to improve on the flop.
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Big Bets are Rarely Big Bluffs
People with big hands like to bet big. This is epitomized by bad players over betting the pot. People tend to drive their aces as hard as possible—even if it leads them into a brick wall. It’s true that pairing the board with top pair, top kicker, will win most of the time versus another player. However, you should rarely have too much faith in top pair with more than one other person in the pot. This is extra true will a field of limpers (they got into the pot for cheap with potential monster hands.) In these situations, you better have at least two pair if someone comes out raising (or flat calling big bets.)
Beware of Scary Flops
I don’t care how much you like your AA, if your opponent is coming all-in over your raise with a board like J, 10, 9, suited, get away from the hand. Unless you are playing against a habitual bluffer and have reasonable evidence from tells, never get too involved in this sort of situation. The key is to test the waters; play in position if possible and shape your bets to get more information about your opponent’s hand. Figure out if they’re betting to a draw, and if they are, make them pay for it. If the turn comes scary, either try to bluff your way out (smartly, in position,) or lay it down to any big continuation bet.
Be in Control
Don’t be that “calling station” that digs their grave by flat calling bet after bet. Instead, be in control—let the table respect your quality hand. This means playing aggressive when you do pair the board. But if you are met with major resistance, don’t be afraid to get away from the hand. Good players make good lay downs.
Poker is all about minimizing your mistakes and taking advantage of other’s slip-ups. In order to do this, you must be attentive at the table. Don’t let yourself be that “donkey” that bets with ignorance. If you think there is a good chance your top pair is in danger, try to get away from the hand. Try to stop the action with a reasonable bet (to semi-bluff them off their hand/draw,) or check/fold it down. If you master this concept, your game will drastically improve.
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