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Texas Holdem Poker Tips – About TPTK
The weak-kicking top pair is undoubtedly one of the most intimidating and difficult to play well in Texas Hold’em. How should you act when a non-flush A6 hits one on the flop round? When should you play fast with these cards? When is it better to play slow with them? When should you call a huge bet on the river round with them? The task of this article is to answer questions like these.
Protecting the Check Range
Perhaps the most important difference between a good top pair and a bad top pair is that a big-kick top pair is good against your opponent’s regular top pair, while a small-kick top pair is good against your opponent’s bluffing hand. Therefore, in situations where we want to bet with some cards in our range and overcall with others, we can put the weak kicker top pair into our overcall range, and thus we can allow the bottom pool to grow against an opponent’s air hand that requires a fold win rate. In other words, we overcall in order to trap a bluff. Let me illustrate this with an example.
Suppose we are dealt K♥6♥ in the small blind at a regular table of six and raise to 3BB. a very aggressive regular player calls in the big blind. The flop is K♠9♣4♣. While we could value bet here and grow the pot by a street or two, we need to slow down at some point anyway and our hand is not good enough to bet three times. In addition, our range here includes some very tempting check. Medium pairs like TT-QQ and 9x are happy to overcall-call. At the same time, we are up against a tough opponent who may also want to give up some bad game cards like Q8o (the o stands for off suit and refers to a different suit). Creating an overcall range can be useful for us here.
Because K♥6♥ is a good bluff catcher and you don’t want to create a huge bottom pool by betting multiple times, an overcall is very appropriate. Adding enough of these cards to our overcall range is an excellent way to protect our range from aggressive players who often want to drive away most of our perceived capped range.
We need some stronger pairs in our check range. A weak-kicking top pair fits this role perfectly, as it won’t bet three times anyway.
Urgent Need for Value
Sometimes weak kicker top pair has to be played fast. This is especially true when your pair is small and easily flopped, and when your opponent is passive and unlikely to bluff often even if you give him a chance. Players like this tend to opt for free cards rather than trying to force you to fold, which is exactly what you should try to avoid when you have a small pair and are likely to deal many high cards that match your opponent’s range.
As an example, we led a raise in CO position with 8♣7♣ and were then called by a passive player in the big blind. The flop is 8♥6♦2♠ and the opponent checks. Not betting here was a big mistake. This is a flop we need to protect, and with the possibility of us getting called by smaller pairs and an ace-high spread (the public board is still safe to these weak hands wanting to stay in play), now is a good time to bet. If we check here and a king is dealt on the turn, then getting more than a street’s worth is difficult.
Furthermore, since it is already known that this opponent is passive, it would be a mistake to subsequently check and try to induce a bluff. More likely, the opponent does not take the bait and gets a free chance to reverse us.
Catching a Bluff on the River Round
There are occasions when a weak-kick top pair is actually better suited to act as a bluff catcher than a good-kick top pair. Think I’m talking nonsense? Read on.
Let’s say we lead a raise with K♠7♠ on the button and call a 3bet from an extremely tough regular player in the big blind. this hand is near the bottom of our calling range. Against a balanced player, the expectations for calling, folding and 4bet bluffs are similar, so any play here is acceptable.
The flop is K♦J♦4♣, our opponent makes a 1/3 bottom pot continuation bet, and we call. The turn is the 2♥, we pass-call again, and our opponent bets bigger this time, suggesting that his range is now polarized, with either Kx and better cards or bluffs. Our K♠7♠ is an excellent catch bluff hand from this moment on. The river card is 2♣ and the opponent makes an 80% bottom pot size all-in. Now the logic is simple: if he’s bluffing, we win; if he’s value betting, we lose. The problem is that we don’t know how often he’s bluffing, and we can’t accurately predict which play is better: calling or folding.
What is known, however, is that we would rather call with K7 than KT. Why? It has to do with the undercard exclusion effect and what hand the opponent is bluffing with. The most likely hand he will bluff with on this board is a busted drawing hand. He has more incentive to bluff on the turn with T9s (T for 10, s for same suit) rather than 97s. The former has some chance of winning, while the latter is basically a no-win situation. It is highly unlikely that the opponent will make a value bet all-in with a wide range that includes KT and T9, so the size of our kicker is irrelevant and the only thing that matters is the undercard exclusion effect.
When we hold 7♠, T♠ is still on the stack or in the opponents hand. However, when we hold T♠, our opponents lose bluffs such as Q♠T♠,T♠9♠ and A♠T♠, thus reducing our chances of winning. When we hold K♠7♠, a similar problem does not exist because he is not bluffing on the turn with many cards including 7♠, and thus he is more likely to bluff on the river.
A weak kicker top pair can serve well as a catching bluff when our kicker does not block a busted straight or flush draw card.