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Top Pair on a Dead Board and You Get Raised -- Shove, Call, or Fold?

Top Pair on a Dead Board -- Stack Off, Call, or Fold?


  • You raise pre and flop top pair and continuation bet, but the limp-caller is raising you. Now what?

  • Mo Nuwwarah presents an interesting poker puzzle from a Mid-States Poker Tour Main Event.

Covering live poker tournaments for a living affords me the opportunity to see countless thousands of hands played out, many of which offer interesting and potentially valuable insights into how players — both amateurs and professionals — play the game. In this ongoing series, I’ll highlight hands I’ve seen at the tournaments I’ve covered and see if we can glean anything useful from them.

The Scene

This week, we look at one final hand from the recent Mid-States Poker Tour Meskwaki stop — only not one played by your intrepid author. Rather this hand, also from the $1,100 Main Event, comes from Day 2 and was played by a friend with whom I traveled to the tournament.

Tom Frith began the day with a stack of 215,000, good enough to be in the top 10. But he lost a couple of pots in the early going and was down to about 175,000 at Level 15 (1,500/3,000/500) with the money bubble looming. At the time of this hand the only read he had at the table was on Josh Lyster, seated two to his right, after Lyster made a big overbet preflop and showed down aces.

The Action

Action folded to Lyster in the cutoff who limped in, then it folded to Frith who had been dealt {K-Hearts}{Q-Diamonds} in the small blind. Frith popped to 9,500, and after the big blind folded Lyster called the raise.

The flop came {7-Spades}{3-Diamonds}{k-Clubs}, and Frith fired out a continuation bet of 12,000, which Lyster raised to 40,000. Frith responded by pushing all of his chips forward, and Lyster called. Frith showed his top pair of kings, then saw he was behind when Lyster turned over {7-Diamonds}{3-Clubs}.

The dealer then delivered the {9-Diamonds} and then the {2-Clubs} from the deck, making Lyster’s two pair best and sending all of Frith’s chips to his opponent.

Concept and Analysis

This hand is very strange all around as you don’t often see a 115-big blind pot played between hands like these at this point in a tournament, never mind when approaching the money bubble.

First off, Lyster’s limp with {7-Diamonds}{3-Clubs} looks optimistic at best. If you’re dead set on playing seven-three offsuit in the cutoff, your best chance to turn a profit is just to raise the pot and attempt to steal the blinds. As played, he limps and calls a raise with a hand that’s usually going to be very tough to play postflop.

Top Pair on a Dead Board and You Get Raised -- Shove, Call, or Fold? 101
Tom Frith

Luckily for Lyster, he does nail the dream flop hitting bottom two with Frith making top pair. Frith leads out with a standard continuation bet and is faced with a big raise.

It’s a very tough decision for Frith at this point. On the one hand, his opponent is saying he has a big hand. But what big hands could he have? There’s very little that a player should be limping with in the cutoff that beats king-queen here, especially when Lyster is not likely to have limped a big holding preflop — remember, he had played aces very aggressively already.

Lyster could have limped a small pair and flopped a set, but sets aren’t easy to flop. If you just give your opponent credit for nut hands every time you’re in these spots, you’re going to get run over. On the other hand, playing a pot this massive with one pair at this point in the tournament is far from ideal.

A better option than just shoving here would likely be to simply call and see if you can get any more information on the turn. One more card and one more attempt to gain some sort of read on the opponent could help clarify the situation. Plus, jamming chases away any weak or speculative holdings Lyster might have, possibly letting him off the hook if he has a weaker king.

One thing this hand definitely illustrates is the difficulty in reading hands against small-stakes players. They will often play hands in manners that don’t make much sense to players thinking in conventional ways. Frith never saw the {7-Diamonds}{3-Clubs} coming, and it’s not hard to see why.

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