It’s easy to feel easy when facing aggression at the poker table, even when you have a hand like top pair! The more you study and prepare quality poker strategy, the easier it is to remain relaxed at the table.
Scenario: You are eight-handed early on in a $5,000 buy-in online tournament and the blinds are 150-300. You are in the cutoff with a stack of 49,965 chips. It folds around to you with A♦-Q♥.
While a two-big blind raise would be fine, if you instead raise a bit larger, you get to play larger pots. Since you are deep stacked early in the tournament, you may want to get a lot of chips in on a favorable board, so raising a little larger makes sense.
Action: You raise it to 900 and the loose, aggressive player in the big blind calls. The flop comes Q♠-5♥-3♦ and your opponent checks.
The Pot: 1,950
The Board: Q♠-5♥-3♦
Effective Stack: 163 Big Blinds Effective
Playing The Flop With Top Pair
If you make a large bet on this uncoordinated board, it will force your opponent to play straightforwardly, which is not what you want. You want to put your opponent in tough spots and allow them to stay in the pot with their junk. Whenever the board is uncoordinated, it is fine to bet with the entirety of your range because your opponent is unlikely to have anything.
Action: You bet 900, and your opponent raises to 2,765.
Responding To Your Opponent’s Raise
If you reraise, your opponent is going to get it all-in with hands like 5-5, 3-3, Q-5, and Q-3, which are all in their big blind calling range. While you are still likely have the best hand at the moment, when you reraise and are then put all-in, you almost certainly don’t have the best hand anymore and fail to keep your opponent’s range as wide as possible. Calling keeps your opponent in with whatever draws they have and allows you to control the size of the pot.
Action: You call, the turn is the 8♦, and your opponent bets 5,820 for 75% pot.
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The Pot: 7,480
The Board: Q♠-5♥-3♦-8♦
Effective Stack: 153 Big Blinds Effective
Navigating The Turn With Top Pair
While you could easily be crushed, most of the time your opponent will be holding a straight draw or a pair that is drawing between four and eight outs. If you raise and your opponent sticks around though, you will usually be in bad shape. A raise can cause your opponent to fold out their worse made hands and draws that are drawing thin. The best option is to call and see the river.
Action: You call, the river is the 9♣, and your opponent bets 14,400 for 75% pot.
The Pot: 7,480
The Board: Q♠-5♥-3♦-8♦-9♣
Effective Stack: 133 Big Blinds Effective
A River Decision With Top Pair
If you think your opponent is extremely tight and unlikely to bluff, folding is not entirely out of the question. However, you know this opponent is loose and aggressive. It is important to realize that good players are capable of bluffing early in tournaments and if you think they are bluffing too often, you must make this call.
While the 9♣ improves hands like J-10 and 7-6, you have to know for certain your opponent is not capable of bluffing in order to fold your hand. This is an easy call with top pair, top kicker.
Conclusion: You make the call and your opponent reveals the K♦-6♦, missing the fifth diamond and rewarding you with a sizeable pot early in the tournament.