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Controlling the Pot With Top Pair, Bad Kicker

Controlling the Pot With Top Pair, Bad Kicker
  • Pot control: @JonathanLittle flops a marginal made hand and plays it the only way that makes sense.

  • Consider how you would play @JonathanLittle's hand after flopping top pair, bad kicker in position.

Here's a hand which illustrates the value of pot control. With the blinds 75/150 and effective stacks 25,000, it folded to me on the button with {A-Clubs}{5-Diamonds} where I raised to 400.

As I discuss in the video below, "ace-rag" hands like {A-}{8-} or worse are generally not great to play, and in fact just by avoiding getting involved with them you'll increase your chances of success. When you do play these hands, know that you're often going to be bluffing with them, not value betting.

In any case, the big blind called and the flop came {A-Diamonds}{K-Spades}{3-Clubs}. Here if I'm going to bet it is going to be on the small side. Checking behind is also fine — which is what I did — as I want to control the size of the pot with my top pair, bad kicker.

The turn brought the {10-Spades} and a large bet of 1,000 from my opponent, one that exceeded the 875 in the middle. Usually very large bets in this spot are going to be polarized — either he's very strong or has nothing. They also are often going to be followed by a bet on the river, whether or not he's bluffing.

I called the big turn bet and the {Q-Spades} came on the river, putting a third spade and four to a Broadway straight on the board. But my opponent didn't bet — he checked. With 2,875 in the middle, what should I do? Should I turn my hand into a bluff and bet, or check behind?

Take a look at what I did and listen to my explanation for why I made my decision:

After flopping top pair, bad kicker, I played this hand the only way that makes sense. Controlling the pot with your marginal made hands is mandatory when your opponents play well.

Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and author with over $6,700,000 in live tournament earnings. He writes a weekly educational blog and hosts a podcast at You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanLittle.

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